This article and the tips in it have been contributed by our guest writer, Alysoun Sturt-Scobie.
How often have you said to your partner (or vice versa) something along the lines of “It’s cold in here,” and they disagree with you. And then that disagreement leaves you frustrated whereas if you’d asked, “Would you mind closing the window (turning off the fan etc….) because I feel cold,” the outcome would probably be much different. They might suggest that you go and put on another jumper but at least you will have been clear about the outcome you have in mind for yourself – to feel warmer.
It can be easy in this kind of situation to cloud your communication by falling into patterns of behaviour that are not very helpful when it comes to finding mutually acceptable solutions. Perhaps you’re familiar with the drama triangle, a situation in which three roles play a part:
- The Rescuer: this is the person who often likes to “make things right”, to sort things out for others.
- The Persecutor: the person who tells you it’s always someone else’s fault (and if you’re the rescuer, it’ll very often be you)
- The Victim: the person for whom everything goes wrong, “It always happens to me”, “I just can’t, it’s impossible”….
Recognise any of those characters? I certainly used to be the Rescuer; I loved helping people out of their difficulties or ‘rescuing the situation’. I used to think it was a good thing to do until the Persecutor told me that I was wrong and that my advice hadn’t worked. Ouch! I also find that in this group of three there is usually a passive aggressive individual.
It is important for effective communication that, when you want to resolve issues, you should remember too that whilst people may hear your words, they also feel your attitude.
Over the years I’ve become aware that when I’m hungry I become quiet and sometimes a bit grumpy. Ever heard of the word “H-angry”? Unfortunately I have to admit that this is me. Being aware of how my own physical state can affect the way in which I communicate has been a very useful lesson. I often keep a bag of nuts or dried fruit to hand.
During my preparation for the round the world yacht race I worked on managing my breathing (and regular eating!) so that I could calm myself in any situation. If ever you find yourself feeling stressed, ask yourself where that feeling is – is it in your neck, your shoulders, stomach or somewhere else? And once you recognise that feeling, start to become more aware of your body’s own warning signals and remember that you have a choice – keep feeling that way or do something about it. How you feel will impact the effectiveness of your communication.
When I was a crew member during the round the world yacht race, recognising these physical signs became really important to me (and indirectly to the crew). If I felt cross about something, I learned to ask myself what was going on for me. Was I hungry – watch out world! Was I over tired – or was something else going on? I also tried hard to put myself in the shoes of the other crew member if I was finding their behaviour irritating or frustrating and imagine what was going on for them too.
So when it comes to finding good solutions that work for you and those around you, here are few things to bear in mind:
- If you feel frustrated about something (or someone), ask yourself why and what is going on for you right now that might be influencing the way you feel.
- Choose whether you want to do something about it.
- Focus on the outcome that you would like from the conversation with yourself and others.
- Provide some context to how you phrase your request or wishes so that the other person is more likely to understand not just what you want but what makes it important to you.
- Be aware that the way you position your body, your tone of voice and your choice of words will all influence the outcome.
- Choose a neutral, non-judgmental attitude -If you find yourself playing the victim, rescuer or the persecutor, is this really the best way to find a good solution.
We all have the opportunity to make choices in any circumstance and to be more effective in how we communicate our desired outcomes both to ourselves and to others.
You can find out more about Alysoun’s adventures on her blog spinnakersandspokes