Strategies Not Skills

Even if you have great communication skills, you will find it hard to use them when you are feeling upset or defensive. We don’t usually notice that we are going there until it is too late. We’ve said that thing, lost our temper or stormed off. It’s valuable to notice the early warning signs:

• You find yourself taking things too seriously.

• You react and over-focus on an issue.

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• Your conversation picks up speed like a ping-pong game, a rapid fire of words.

• You begin to see the person from a critical viewpoint, a caricature of their worst traits; controlling disrespectful, mean, selfish.

• You lack empathy and find it hard to care about what the other person has to say or how they feel.

• You might feel tension in your body or feel fired up.

• You can’t, let it go.

• The issue becomes magnified and feels catastrophic.

• You see yourself as the victim of the other person.

• You hear what you fear and make negative assumptions of the other person’s intent.

All of us can go there, especially during stressful times. It’s part of our make-up. Once we accept this, we can think about strategies to put in place. Planning for emotional meltdowns makes sense. What could work?

• Slow the conversation down. Make it more like a game of catch, breathe, listen, think about what you are going to say.

• If things aren’t improving, agree to stop and revisit the issue later. Be careful that you don’t dive back in too soon. If you’re still feeling triggered, it won’t work.

• Your best clue that you are ready is when you start to feel care and concern about the other person. This means you’re back to thinking relationally.

• Be open to hearing the person’s needs and values, even if it means you have to ignore some criticism or attitude.

• Commit to taking turns at listening by just hearing to understand until you get it right.

• Stick to the issue and be specific. General terms don’t provide clarity.

While this isn’t easy, it is a more mature way of showing love to those who matter. It feels good when we open our hearts to learning about the other and about ourselves. If discipline means to teach, perhaps this is the most effective form of discipline that there is.

Dr. Allison Rees
Dr. Allison Rees
Dr. Allison Rees is a parent educator, counsellor and coach at LIFE Seminars (Living in Families Effectively).