4 Steps to Improving Your Communication –By John Roche, MSW, RSW, MDiv Transformational Counselling
Communication is hard. Communication with men – a group taught from birth to repress emotion and avoid vulnerability at all costs – can be downright painful. The good news is, whether you’re first dating or starting to get serious, it’s actually pretty simple to dramatically improve the way you communicate with guys.
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The key is to keep it straightforward.
It takes some practice, but these four steps from the communication expert Marshall Rosenberg will be a serious game changer for your dating life.
1. Observing without evaluating.
The first step to effective communication is to learn to make observations instead of evaluations. Evaluation involves sweeping statements about a person’s character, assumptions about someone’s intentions, or the use of judgmental words. This is a great way to get a guy’s back up, but a less great way to start a conversation. Observation, by contrast, means simply noting the facts of a specific situation.
Notice the difference, for example, between saying, “You never text me first” and “I’ve noticed that the last three times we started talking, I was the first person to text.”
2. Expressing feelings.
The next step is expressing feelings. A very human tendency is to mix up thoughts and feelings. “I feel like you’re avoiding intimacy,” for example, is a thought, not a feeling. Feelings in such a situation may include confusion, sadness, frustration, anger, insecurity, disappointment, or even relief.
Notice how different it would be to hear “I feel disappointed” than “I feel like you’re avoiding intimacy.”
3. Connecting feelings to needs.
This step is critical. Our tendency is to blame other people for our feelings and say something like “I feel this way because you did that.” In reality, our feelings are the consequence of our needs, not another person’s behaviour.
For example, if you’re into someone, your need is likely for connection, intimacy, or reassurance. Some guy consistently failing to initiate conversations will probably leave you feeling confused, hurt, sad, or disappointed.
But if you go on a date with someone who spends all night talking about his passion for making dolls out of human hair, then you’re probably going to feel relieved and happy when he fails to text you. Therefore, it is our unique needs that determine our feelings, not the situation. (Note: some needs, like safety, are not unique but universal and constant.)
In our example, notice the difference between “I feel like you’re avoiding intimacy because you never text me” and “I feel disappointed because I’d really like to connect with you.”
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4. Making requests.
We tend to expect people to know what we want and resent them for not guessing. Or we avoid asking for what we want so we don’t seem “selfish.” Or we tell people what to do.
None of these are inherently wrong, but they’re also pretty ineffective ways of getting our needs met. Making requests, by contrast, gives us the best chance that people will respond positively to our needs.
That being said, sometimes people say no. And that’s allowed. If, however, a man consistently says no to your requests, you may want to re-evaluate whether or not you want him to be a central part of your life.
Direct communication will get you that information sooner rather than later so you can avoid wasting your time.
Putting it all together, effective communication would look something like this:
“I’ve noticed that the last three times we started talking, I was the first person to text (observation). I feel disappointed (feeling) because I’d really like to connect with you (need). In the future, do you think you could make an effort to text me more often (request)?”
Life is simply too short to be getting into arguments, beating around the bush, or silently resenting people for not reading your mind. Getting the hang of direct communication is scary and it takes some practice, but ultimately, it will save you time and grief.
John Roche has two Master’s degrees in counselling and three years of clinical experience. He also has post-graduate training in EMDR and CBT, two of the most empirically-validated and effective forms oGling Here
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