• Joanna Bloss

Another Simple Thing You Can Do to Have Less Conflict & Better Relationships (Communication, 3/5)

Have you ever found yourself in a ridiculous conversation that devolved into a completely irrelevant topic -- so much so that you couldn't even remember what you were arguing about in the first place?

Yes. Yes you have.

Joe: I told you on Tuesday that we had this dinner appointment -- you never listen to me and now we are going to be late!

You: You did not tell me on Tuesday! 10 minutes ago was the first I heard of it.

Joe: I distinctly remember telling you. You had just hung up the phone with your mother and you were mad at her which is why you didn't pay attention to a word I said. You never pay attention to me!

You: I didn't even talk to my mother all day on Tuesday. The last time I talked to her was on Sunday, and I know that's true because she called me yesterday and she said she hadn't talked to me for three days.

Now. What was the problem?

It happens so often, this conversation pattern is a 'thing'. I'm not sure what the experts call it, but I call it exhausting.

It's so easy to do. We find ourselves sucked into purposeless conversations that leave all the parties completely worn out and unable to address the real problem.

So many families/couples/individuals come into my office and simply say, "I'm tired. I'm exhausted. We have the same conversations, over and over, and I can tell you exactly how they're going to go."

I don't have a magic wand for this one, but I can share a tool with you that you may not have tried.

Seriously. It will be so easy you will wonder why you didn't think of it. (You didn't, because you're tired.)

The way to work smarter instead of harder in communication is simply this:

Focus on the process, not the content.

What do I mean by that?

Let's look at the conversation you and Joe just had.

Joe: I told you on Tuesday that we had this dinner appointment -- you never listen to me and now we are going to be late!

You: You did not tell me on Tuesday! 10 minutes ago was the first I heard of it.

Joe: (because he's done a lot of work in this area he can now say...) Well, I thought I told you Tuesday, but maybe I just imagined it. Anyway, I'm feeling frustrated now, because it really means a lot to me to introduce you to my boss, and now I'm worried we're going to be late for dinner.

You: (because you've been reading this blog you can now say...) Shoot, I am really sorry. I've been looking forward to meeting your boss, and I definitely don't want to make you late. How about you drive and I'll put some makeup on in the car?

And later....after dinner....you can say, "And Joe, you know earlier, when you said I never listen to you? I felt really defensive after that, because even though I know I sometimes tune you out, the word 'never' really gets to me, because I can think of times that I do listen to you. I feel like you make generalizations when you're angry and everything I've ever messed up on in our relationship gets thrown in the pot..."

And so on.

Now I know this isn't magic, but it does work. I can tell you that it works, because I've done it myself, and I've taught my clients to do it as well.

Focusing on the process over the content ignores the "who, what, where, when" arguments that we seem to be determined to have. Those arguments that make us feel picked apart and exhausted. The ones that get us no where and leave us feeling like every conversation we have is the same song, second verse.

By focusing on the process (Use the formula: "When you...I feel...I need...."), we give the other person a little more space to think through what they feel and they need, rather than putting them on the defensive and trying to figure out how to prove us wrong.

Process communication focuses on what's happening beneath the surface, not the minor, annoying details. Process communication gives the people we care about a chance to catch their breath, and gives us a chance to be heard. It's subtle way of doing things differently. Instead of driving endlessly on a country road trying to figure out where we're going and how we're going to get there, process communication provides a map -- a sense of context and a destination.

All the parties involved may not agree exactly on how to get there, but at least there's a reference point.

The hardest part about doing process communication is that we have to do two things at once:

1. we have to focus on how we feel, on how the interaction is affecting us and

2. we have to step away from that emotion and share it in a non-defensive, grown-up way

There's actually a third thing. We also have to be aware of what we need, and learn to ask for that in a way that doesn't put the other person on the defensive.

In process communication we have to let go of our right to be right, and focus on the other person's right to be heard. We have to validate the other person's feelings as valid -- not because we understand them or agree with them, but simply because another person has them.

Now I know this is easier said than done, but if you have had the same conversation over and over again only to land at the same place, it might be worth a shot to do things differently.

Need more? If you are feeling stuck and need some outside help in managing your communication, emotions, or relationships, our team at Generations Counseling is available! Give us a call at 317-743-8202 or email at: info@generationsindy.com today.

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