Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Frustrated That You Can't Get Your Point Across?

July 8, 2002

Communication problems are frequent occurrences in close relationships. Both the speaker and listener have a responsibility to make communications work. If you are frustrated with how things are going between you and another party, here is a strategy for getting through.

The speaker plays a role in how things go. Part of communicating is to speak so the defenses of the other party are reduced. I've seen people state their truth in such an aggressive and abrasive manner that communication breaks down immediately. An action/reaction cycle defeats any meaningful communication.

Be ready to listen. If the other party is defensive, angry and resisting what you have to say, drop trying to make your point temporarily and focus in on their reaction. Put yourself in the listening role. Listen intently to what they are saying. Ask questions, clarify, draw out and summarize their points. He or she might not be willing to listen to you until he or she first feels understood.

What can a speaker do to really be heard?

1. Monitor your tone of voice and body language. Even though you may be choosing your words carefully, your tone of voice communicates an attitude toward the person you are talking to. Words and feeling have to match.

People read your tone of voice and put more meaning in it than the actual spoken words. They can detect mixed messages. The receiver may be reacting to the tone of your voice instead of your words. If your tone is obvious, explain to the listener why you are speaking to them in that particular manner.

Facial expressions, body posture and other body language communicate strong messages that may negate or reinforce the message you are trying to get across.

2.State your positive intent. Stating your positive intent about what you are going to say is as important as the area code in dialing and getting through. The message is their local phone number. Many people assume the other party knows their positive intent or that they have implied it in some manner. Often that isn't true.

Ask yourself, "What am I trying to achieve with this communication? What would I like to see happen?"

When someone is upset, he or she could immediately launch into their feelings. However if the upset person prefaced their remarks with something like, "I care about you. I know I am upset right now. I want to clear the air so we can enjoy each other again," the attitude of the listener might improve considerably.

3.Tactfully interrupt interruptions. A tactful interruption is done without anger, blame or fear. Just say the person's name who is interrupting over and over again until you have their attention.

Once you have the floor again, state your point again. If there are more interruptions, you can insist on finishing your point before leaving the speaker role. If you are not satisfied the other party has heard you, you can tactfully ask the other party to summarize your main points before you go further into the conversation.

4. Tell your truth. Be aware of the other person's feelings and build them up instead of tearing them down. Sometimes it takes time to develop trust before you attempt an open and honest conservation. Goodwill is important if you have a hard message to convey.

Use "I" language. Give your opinion in a soft way, letting the listener know that it is only one opinion and not the official version of the truth. Expressions like "The way I see it" or "It seems to me" help the listener to be less defensive.

Be specific about problem behaviors. Avoid exaggerated terms like "You always" or "You never." Give examples.

5. Offer suggestions or options. In the spirit of being helpful, you might offer some ideas about what they could do about the situation. However, giving too much advice or being too forceful may threaten the other party's autonomy to make their own choice.

If you have stated the problem clearly, it won't take much imagination on their part to find a solution. If they don't, you may have to spell out what you think is needed.

Brainstorming for alternatives works if you both are operating with the same definition of the problem. Your suggestions will fall on deaf ears if they don't see or believe the problem.

6. Assume the best. Give the benefit of the doubt. Give them some wriggle room to save face. Don't challenge their excuses and self-justifications head on. If they hear your side of it and make a positive response, that is what you really want anyway.

When you come back to your point, integrate their thoughts and feelings into your description of the problem. If you can find some way of agreeing with part of what they said, then they will be more accepting of your point of view.

"I can see what you are saying about how I add to the problem in this way, but I also feel that what happens then is ..." Search for common ground from which you can use to branch out and find solutions that fit both your needs.