Why Your Communication Suffers and How to Correct
When I got married my father’s advice came in one word, “Communicate.” A huge lack of communication skills on both sides led to the demise of the marriage.
I wonder if you, like me, have ever felt misunderstood or unappreciated. Have you ever hung your head in despair thinking you are not loved and no one listens to you? I discovered, at least in part, the reason why so many suffer in secret…
Overall, we are terrible communicators.
We are also unaware of our incompetence. The way each one of us communicates is a dysfunctional pattern formed early in life.
I have a set of tapes called “The I. C. Course” by Jerry Stocking. It is a recording of a retreat he facilitated years ago. During one group activity he invited people, two at a time, to act out the selling of a marker — the kind you use to write and draw posters with. One person tries to sell the marker while the other is instructed to refuse to buy the marker no matter what sales pitch is used. The other participants and me found it hilarious to hear the myriad of tactics employed in an attempt to get the other person to buy! The resulting reactions when each seller found themselves unable to break the other person down were equally entertaining. Almost all sellers offered ineffective pitches and caused a great deal of angst to themselves and the buyer.
The activity was all about how you communicate requests and how you receive the answer. You make requests so often in life. We all do. Sometimes you get what you want. Sometimes you don’t. Can you stay in a place of love no matter how the negotiations turn out?
If you feel disempowered, unloved, unheard, and in general misunderstood, what you may not realize is that you may be asking and receiving from the old dysfunctional patterns you learned as a child. Most of us do that until someone sheds light on the misguided way of communicating your needs and wants. Until you become conscious of the source of your old pattern, you continue to function at a deficit.
Consider this: One weekend when you were five years old you had your first taste of ice cream. You liked it so much you hoped for the opportunity to taste ice cream every weekend. When the next weekend came near its end you asked if the family could go for more ice cream. You mother said, “No. Not this time.” You whined and begged a little, as children do, and your mother got annoyed. Your father got annoyed too and raised his voice, “Stop whining and badgering your mother or there will never be any ice cream!” And you cried.
Now, dad was probably already irritable because the weekend was over and he had to return to work the following day. Mom was irritable because family time was over for the time being and Monday began her work week as well. Their grouchiness had little to do with you. Children are very sensitive and malleable, and they want to please their parents. So, you changed yourself and decided you would not ask for ice cream ever again. Instead, when you wanted ice cream you said something like, “I sure do love ice cream!” or “That sure was fun when we went for ice cream!” And you only dared say it once for fear of being yelled at again. You hoped they would get the hint. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. With a “No” answer you had to either accept no ice cream or try a different method. Some children break into all out tantrums. Others go mute and feel their parents don’t care. Whichever method you chose became a pattern you carried into adulthood. This is the dysfunctional, ineffective pattern you still use to get what you want. Not working very well is it?
How do you correct your communication fails?
Awareness is the first step toward changing the pattern. Imagine yourself as the seller of the marker I mentioned earlier and answer the following questions:
What method do you use to sell your marker? Do you beg and plead? Do you describe the features of the marker? Do you tell the buyer how the marker will benefit her? Do you demand that the buyer buy the marker?
What do you do when the buyer refuses to buy? Do you get frustrated and give up or shut down? Do you get angry at the buyer? Do you threaten the buyer? Do you walk away in disgust?
Now, imagine you are the buyer. How does it feel to have someone pressuring you to buy the marker? How does it feel to be asked if you will consider buying the marker? How does it feel to say “No”? How does it feel to say “Yes” when you want to say “No”?
The purpose of this exercise is to inform you of your patterns. The way you answered the questions is probably the way you make and receive requests and how you respond to requests made of you.
Let’s say you want to go to the beach and you would like your partner to go with you. Instead of saying “I’d like to go to the beach. Would you like to go with me?” You end up sounding like this, “The beach is supposed to be warm today. I sure enjoyed the last time we went to the beach. I hope we can go again sometime.” If your partner doesn’t take the hint and start packing for the beach, your next move might be giving him the silent treatment. Or, maybe you say something sarcastic to show how angry you are. Your partner is lost in a confused muddle of your haphazard way of trying to get what you want…to go to the beach with him. You may end up feeling like he doesn’t care about your needs and desires or doesn’t want to spend time with you. Both are false projections caused by you temporarily reverting into the sad little girl who didn’t get ice cream at the precise time she desired it. You offered a poor sales pitch and did not make a sale.
The other side of the coin: Can you receive a “No” to your request?
People in healthy relationship need to be able to do both, make requests and receive “No” answers with grace. If your partner doesn’t want to go to the beach or had something else in mind to do, that’s okay. Maybe he will want to go the next time. If he says “No” repeatedly, you have the option to go alone or ask a friend to go with you. Getting angry about a turned down request is immature, manipulative, and a sure-fire way to degrade the relationship and any further communication attempts. People are much more likely to cooperate and compromise when they feel free to say “Yes” or “No” without repercussions.
In conclusion, it is always a good idea to check in with your self if you start feeling unheard or misunderstood. Maybe you have unfounded fears about how your partner will respond. Are you asking for what you want in a clear and concise manner? Are you willing to take “No” for an answer without reading negative meaning into it? So many of us go for years feeling like no one cares when in reality, we are the ones who are afraid to articulate what we want and need.
I’ve been in that place of fear, projection, and failed communication. I did years of therapy to learn ways to correct my communication skills. There is a lot of help available. Go for it and watch what happens. You just might find a happier, more fulfilled way of being!
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