We as human beings are sociable, interacting with people on daily basis. Often, our happiness and mood depends on how the interactions with those around us go. This is especially true of those whom we care about, mainly our close friends as well as partners/ spouses. But working relationships are equally important, enabling us to grow, develop and improve in our careers. So how can we communicate our way to better overall relationships?
Each personality we deal with is unique and presents its own challenges. Even when we feel we know someone inside out, they may still surprise us. Effectively managing different levels of relationships requires us to consciously observe the process and impact of our interactions so that we continue to gain knowledge, understanding and experience in developing relationships in a positive way. In other words, we learn how to communicate better by observing and being ‘aware’ of our own communication skills and methods, and adding to them as and when necessary.
To manage and grow our relationships successfully, we need to be assertive and honest in sharing our thoughts, feelings and concerns. This includes communicating the negatives as well as the positives, and it’s the negatives that most of us do not know how to express effectively. How do you get the other party to listen to your thoughts and concerns without upsetting them?
A good way to do this is to communicate your message using the “I” technique.
The ‘I’ technique is an important core of my coaching therapy that I do with clients, especially couples. In “I” messages, statements are made about ourselves, how we feel and our concerns, and what actions of the other party has led to those concerns.
In arguments or ‘heated communications’, “You” messages focus on the other person and usually lead to their defensiveness. For example, a husband or wife is waiting for the return of the spouse and when the spouse returns, he or she might be greeted with: “You are always coming home late! Why can’t you come back earlier?”
This “You” message makes the spouse feeling blamed and attacked, making any further communication and subsequent reconciliation difficult. In other words, in a conflicting situation, “You” message focuses on attacking the other person. The normal response from the attacked party would then be to come up with his/her own misgivings, trying to turn the heat around, thus adding fire to an argument. As a result, the primary issue of the person coming home late is completely pushed aside, with spouses now screaming at each other. How many of you have experienced, or are currently experiencing this type of ‘communication’?
Let’s now take the ‘I’ message scenario and apply it to the same situation. An “I” message would look like this: “I feel rather lonely while waiting for you to come home. I’m concerned that you are often home late and I get rather frustrated wondering where you are.” In this statement, the speaker simply shares his or her feelings and concerns, he/she does NOT attack. The clear communication of the concern is a good starting point for both parties to work out what can be done about it.
By using the ‘I’ technique, the couple created a good base for a meaningful conversation, and they can now talk about the concern in an effective manner.
Very importantly, the sharing of the speaker’s feelings leads to more trust in the relationship as it shows the speaker is willing to look within himself or herself and take responsibility for his or her feelings.
Using the ‘I’ communication system instead of ‘You’ can be applied to many other areas of your life, not just intimate relationships. It’s a strong tool to use at work, when communicating with colleagues and managers.
This is what you do:
When you’re communicating a positive message, use “You” technique:“You look great in that dress!”
This positive message could be further enhanced with an “I” system:“I’m so happy to see you. I missed you! You look great.”
When communicating a negative message (although I believe there are NO negative communications, only feedback), use ‘I’ system:
Your 3-way ‘I’ system technique:
I feel _________________ (express your feeling)
when you _____________ (describe an action that affects you or relates to the feeling)
because _______________ (explain how the action affects you or relates to the feeling)
Sometimes a fourth part might be added. This states our preference for what we would like to take place instead- in effect, offering a solution to the problem raised.
“I get very anxious when you raise your voice at me because it makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong. Could you please not raise your voice when we talk?”
“I’m so happy you’re learning to cook because then I’ll know you can prepare your own meals when I’m unable to get home in time to cook.”
Using the “I” technique might not come naturally to most people initially. However, as with everything else in life, you need to practice it. Just remember to use it, be aware of how different your conversations become and which communication areas of your life you could make more improvements in.