I am rushing out to one of my final contracted projects working with medical schools to help students improve their communication skills. In giving feedback in these situations, we always frame our comments in the following format: When you did this action or said this, I felt this emotion. This keeps us from making a false interpretation of what we experienced. For example, I could say to a student, "You looked nervous", and they could respond with, "I wasn't". So , where do we go from there? But if I say, "When you didn't make eye contact and fidgeted with your pen, I felt a uncomfortable." That is a statement that the student cannot argue with. I own my feelings. This is not judgmental or accusatory in any way. It is just a personal expression of an emotional fact based on observable behavior.
Synergistically, as things usually happen, I was putting my final touches on my workshop, Unpushing Your Buttons, that I will be doing at Esprit in Washington state in May and at Southern Comfort in September, when it dawned on me how valuable the format I use with medical schools could translate into emotionally sensitive situations in our personal lives. (Time out for shameless plug. I have four workshops designed to help people during transitions in their life plot a clear path. They are Keeping the Dream Alive, Unpushing Your Buttons, Confronting Your Gremlin (Greatest Fear) and Managing Stress. Have whiteboard. Will travel.)
When someone does or says something that effects us in a negatively emotional way, we immediately default to either a victim role and say nothing or a fighter mode and say too much. It's normal. I have done ELI assessments for many people that show how they react in stressful situations and the results support this every time. When an emotionally charged situation occurs, take a breath, decide what was said or done and how it made you feel. Now, formulate a statement using the above template and calmly and unemotionally tell the person what they have just done or said and how it made you feel. You might just get a "Oh. I didn't know" response. Your are, at least, less likely to get an emotional retort.
Try it. This technique is also useful if you are dreading having "one of those" conversations with a boss, coworker or family member. Write down what you have to say using the template. You can rewrite and move the words around ("I really felt ignored when you didn't look up from your video game when I was telling you about my day", "You often leave the milk out and I put it away. Can you see how taken for granted I feel when that happens?") This will keep most conversation from deteriorating into an emotional disembowelment.
But remember, the person you are talking to has probably not read my blog, so be understanding if they do respond a bit more emotionally. If you stick to this format, the odds of the conversation escalating emotionally are very slim.
Have a peaceful day and resolve to have one of these talks before the end of the month. Let me know how it goes.