Do you need to say something to someone that might be hard for her to hear?
Do you need to ask someone to change her behavior for you?
These can be awkward situations. It is difficult to break disappointing news or to communicate any kind of message that might result in the receiver feeling embarrassment, guilt, conflict, or anger. Yet, sometimes, honesty requires it and healthy relationships demand it.
I recall a man who did a beautiful job of this. I had just moved into my first house and I was in the backyard with the gate open to the alley. My new neighbor approached me and I felt a little apprehensive for some reason. My guard was up as I anticipated what could possibly be the problem. As he neared, he smiled and said, "I wonder if you could help me with something." I instantly melted; my heart opened up, and I could feel myself being receptive to whatever he was going to say next. He then explained, "When you dump the concrete water here in the alley, it pools in this spot right in front of my garage and then I end up tracking it into my garage floor. I wonder if you could just dump it a little closer to the fence." "Sure," I happily replied as we introduced ourselves. As I walked back to the house, I reflected on how badly that whole incident could have gone if he had just yelled at me for being so careless and inconsiderate.
I think that many of us are good people. We identify with being generally helpful, kind to others, and responsive to their needs. Even the nicest people, though, will probably contract into a defensive posture when threatened. If you want others to be open and responsive to you, don't give them any reason to feel defensive. Be respectful and validate the legitimacy of their position. This can be very disarming and it helps them to feel emotionally safe. By validating the other person's reality, you increase the likelihood that they will be able to validate yours.
Of course, never ever start a conversation with "we need to talk." Nothing good ever comes after that phrase. As soon as we hear it, we shut down in preparation for some kind of attack. We become well defended and resistant, ready to attack back. This will make it much less likely that you will get your needs met. So, it serves your interests much better to use a gentler introductory statement that leaves the listener more likely to stay or even become open to hearing whatever you say next.
I suggest you put the phrase, "I wonder if you could help me with something" in your back pocket and try it sometime. It is an "I" statement, which is the gold standard in the communications and counseling worlds. It implies ownership and self responsibility which helps the receiver to not have to feel confronted or attacked. Did you notice that my neighbor's last sentence was also an "I" statement?, "I wonder if you could just dump it closer to the fence." That is much better than "You should" or "Why don't you."
Of course, here is the small print. All of the above is all very nice. And, you need to know that it may not work at all. It is so frustrating when you do everything right and then the other person doesn't cooperate with the reaction the self-help book said they would have. This leads me to another topic that we will get into sometime: We cannot change or control anyone. Using the above suggestions will do only two things. 1) It will increase the likelihood of a positive response, and 2) You will know that you conducted yourself with kindness and class. And that is priceless.
Make this easy on yourself! Let me come to you!
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