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Three Steps to Emotional Communication

by Dr David Mickel


Frequently talking to people about emotive subjects can be difficult, often because we anticipate a defensive repose, conflict of some kind or just that someone will end up with hurt feelings.

The 3 steps to effective emotional communication is a simple process for communicating your feelings while minimising the chance of evoking a defensive response in others.

Introducing material that is emotive in some way can be very difficult and is often the reason why people fail to discuss how they really feel. There is a great fear of getting it wrong or saying something in a clumsy way. Ideally we can take proactive action here and offer some form of preamble to set the scene, so to speak.

Examples include; "I'd like to have a chat with you about something that is a little awkward for me to talk about, so I may be a little clumsy in what I'm saying. However, I'd very grateful if you could hear me out". or "...there's something I need to talk about but I am finding it difficult to discuss so please bear with me while we talk.....", or, "...I really need to talk to you about something taht is important for me. I'm not sure exactly how to word this so please bear with me...."

There are many variations that can be included here and finding the right words for you is important. The idea being we are setting the scene and ideally preparing the person for a conversation that is important.

Once the scene has been set, move on to the 3 steps:

Step 1: Always talk about your feelings and avoid using the word ‘you’

For example, “I feel frustrated when ……..”; rather than, “you make me feel frustrated when you……”

Step 2: Stick to facts. This step is much harder than it seems. Frequently we assume meanings from what people have done or said. This interesting form of mind reading deviates from the facts of a situation and will undoubtedly evoke a defensive response.

Example: “I feel frustrated when the windows are left open and the cold air gets in…..”. Rather than, “you’ve left the windows open again, if you really cared about me you’d shut them. You obviously don’t love me….”.

Steps 3: Include a direction, solution or outcome. In order to move in a favourable direction away from the ‘problems space’.

Whenever we talk about something that is emotional for us the person we are talking to will feel some of that energy. In order to minimise their discomfort and the chance of them destructively acting on the emotion they have, we want to move towards a solution.

Example: "I feel frustrated when the windows are open would it be possible in future to close them so that I don't get cold. Thank you".

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