August 22, 2018

Emotion-friendly communication

When we are in conflict with someone who is close to us, whether it’s partners, parents, friends or siblings, it’s often harder not to get carried away by what we feel. It can be helpful to become aware of some principles that enhances communcation when emotions are taking over. You can work on these on your own, or talk about them together with someone of importance to you.

Use I-language!
Starting sentences with I rather then you makes it less likely that you increase conflicts and difficult emotions. “I get angry” is better than “You make me angry.”

Avoid accusations!
This is related to the point above, and is about you showing what you feel and need rather than accusing the other of being the cause of your feelings.

Listen!
Try to communcate that you have understood what the other is saying before you react to it. This is called active listening and is about both showing that you have understood AND about taking the perspective of the other before you react. Avoid interpreting, and try to actually understand!

Breathe with your belly when you’re angry!
If you’re angry, see if you can take a few seconds to pause before answering. Breathe with your stomach and remind yourself that your partner, like you, is trying to figure this out in its own way.

Accept and understand emotions!
Try to accept and show understanding of your partner’s feelings. That you understand what he or she feels does not mean that he or she is right or has “won” the wrangling. Acceptance and understanding is the best medication to make emotions useful. Help your partner!

Try not to be defensive!
Can you avoid saying “yes, but….” and then defend yourself? Can you instead say that you understand, and then begin a new I-phrase that opens up? For example, “I get that you become desperate when I pull back and become quiet. It is not my intention. I don’t know what to do when I feel put down. Can you help me find some options? “.

Take responsibility for your feelings!
In the extension of the point above, can you show your partner that you are taking responsibility for your own feelings? Your feelings are about your needs, which means that the expression of your feelings is your responsibility. It is you who must try to let your emotions be expressed in a way that makes it more likely that your needs are being met. Say “I think I need…” Instead of “You never give me….”

Share Vulnerability!
When we share our vulnerability with someone who loves us, we get more of what we need. Vulnerability has the function that it can open up, both for ourselves and for others. It increases the chance of being met with care, support and acceptance.

Remember to express the good feelings!
When we have difficulties with other people, it is easy to overlook that there are also many good and important emotions during all the conflict. Tell the other that you love him/her, compliment the other, and show the other affection with touch and smile. Also, use humor, small gifts or do something nice for the other.

If you want to read more about empathizing with emotions in others please click here.