I Can Say Whatever I Feel!: Communication Techniques that Really Work

“I’m so angry at my sister. I have been taking care of my elderly mother for over ten years now. I pick up her medications, drive her to the doctor, sit with her through choir practice and take her shopping every week. My sister has no idea! Then she says instead of coming for the holidays this year, she’s going to the Bahamas. I don’t know the last time I had a vacation! So, I decided to share all my feelings with her.” I start to get a bad feeling in my stomach. “What do you mean, share your feelings?” I ask. “I let her have it. I wrote down all the things I felt over the years about her and how she doesn’t do a thing for our mother.” Lucy was speaking loudly at this point. “I deserve a vacation! She should be doing so much more, maybe even paying me, for all that I do!!”

At some point this idea “if I label something a feeling I can say whatever I want” entered our culture, and became a readily available excuse for hurtful behavior. Upon further conversation I learned that Lucy sent a long multi-paragraph email to her sister full of blame, painful language and entitlement. Lucy saw nothing wrong with her actions; she felt justified and self-righteous.

So where did Lucy and I begin? Some communication ground rules.
Venting is a specific communication technique that should be used sparingly and with specific boundaries. Lucy needed to speak her frustrations to someone not involved in the situation before bringing anything up with her sister.
Sharing feelings means using I statements such as, “I feel angry” or “I feel hurt.” Disguised You Statements, such as “You make me feel angry,” are really blaming statements. Part of healthy communication is taking responsibility for our own feelings and not blaming someone else for them.
Statements such as “I deserve” with feelings of justification or self-righteousness are signs that Lucy is feeling entitled. This shows Lucy that she’s not taking care of her own needs but expecting someone else to do that for her. If Lucy wants to take a vacation she can start saving, research options, and check in with her family about who can support her mother while she’s gone.

Where can Lucy start the next time she’s in a conflict?
Healthy communication is always a conversation, the parameters of which are agreed upon by both parties.
State she wants a conversation in-person, video chat or on the phone
Outline the one topic (not more!) to discuss
Together set a date, time, and time limit
During the conversation use I statements: “I feel,” “my experience is”
Take time! A slow pace is critical to a successful conversation
Commit to both people having equal talk time
Check in throughout. “I hear you saying this…did I understand you correctly?”
If any other topics come up agree to “table” those for another time
When time is up end the conversation with a plan to speak another time, if needed

Wise communication takes time, effort and vulnerability and conflict asks us to be extra careful with our words and actions. Although in the moment it may feel good to “say my piece” or “get something off my chest,” it creates harm in the long run. This holiday season where can you improve your communication skills?