So what do you do when your perception of somebody else’s behavior - what somebody else is doing or not doing - is creating feelings of anxiety, anger, resentment or fear in you? You tell the person what is going on with you in a way that is not likely to make them defensive. You use the following principles of non-defensive communication that were succinctly described forty years ago in an article by Dr. Jack Gibb.
Describe, don’t evaluate.
The most effective opening you can make in this conversation of confrontation is to start with “I” and tell the other person what you are seeing, hearing, and/or feeling. Just describe what you are perceiving without making any judgements or evaluations of it.
Talk in terms of having a problem, not having a solution.
Describe how the behavior of the other person is a problem for you. Don’t suggest that you know what to do about it, that you have a solution. Invite the other person to join with you in exploring possible approaches to resolution.
Don’t be strategic or manipulative.
As you are describing what is going on with you and your view of the problem, be straightforward and direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t mince words. Don’t put it off on the other person by saying something like “How would you feel if...”
Be empathetic, not cold and neutral.
Let the other person know that you realize there are other things in her or his life besides worrying about how he or she’s behavior is affecting you - that there may be plenty of reasons for the behavior that is at issue.
Speak as an equal, not as a superior.
This is a good idea even if you are in a position of authority over the other person.
Be provisional, not certain.
Let the other person know that you are open to hearing their response, that you’re bringing this matter up in order to explore it, address it, confront it, not to impose a solution that you have already decided upon.
Obviously, this conversation is not going to be as clean or orderly as suggested by these steps. But, as you have the conversation, keep the steps in mind and use them as a guide.
We have been working on what to do when the behavior of somebody else creates a problem for you. What about the opposite situation? Somebody comes to you and tells you that your behavior is creating a problem for them. This may well happen to readers of this book who are working at changing themselves and the way in which they live. The people who live with such readers or are close to them will be just as affected by the changes as the readers themselves.
Dr. Thomas Gordon has written a number of books that contain useful responses to people who say they are having problems with your behavior. His first and most popular book was called Parent Effectiveness Training. He wrote it to help the parents of teenagers avoid the power struggles that arise in those years without abandoning their responsibilities as parents. Here is the approach that he suggests, again to be regarded as principles rather than a script for a conversation.
Let the other person know you heard what they said and that you would like to hear more.
This is what Dr. Gordon called “active listening.” The best way to let the other person know you heard what they said is to repeat it back to them as you heard it and to check if you heard it right. This is very disarming. It will calm the other person down, encourage them to say more and set the stage for useful confrontation. Important distinction: You are not saying that you agree with what they said - just that you heard it.
Ask open-ended questions for clarification.
Open-ended questions are questions that don’t have “Yes or No” answers and that invite the other person to think, reason, express themselves. So you ask questions like:
How are you affected by what I did?
What is it about what I didn’t do that bothers you?
What thoughts do you have about what I do or don’t do?
Can you give me some examples?
Give the other person your response to what you have heard.
Now that you have worked at understanding the situation, get in touch with your response to it and share it with the other person. As much as possible, use simple, straightforward and direct language.
Invite the other person to join you in exploring approaches to solving the problem.
These techniques can be useful in all of life’s contexts: romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, at work, with friends and with family
This excerpt was taken from pages 99-101 of Lighten Up. Dance With Your Dark Side. Click here to buy the book.