Have you ever been in that situation where you and your partner have had a bit of a spat, nothing serious but it didn’t feel good and now that you’ve both calmed down you’re ready to talk. You start first and you truly believe you’re expressing yourself brilliantly and succinctly…your word choices feel like they are simply oozing with truth, authenticity and gentle kindness. You know that your initial anger has subsided and receded to a place where it’s not even remotely informing your vocabulary, tone or body language at all. As you’re sharing your feelings and thoughts you see that your partner is starting to look agitated; their body language is screaming defensiveness and they’re starting to either interrupt or you sense they’re shutting down. You’re confused because you’re being so kind and sweet.
Let’s figure it out…
So now let’s pretend you’re told that you and your partner are being filmed and that you’ve been given the opportunity to rewind and watch the show. You agree. The tape starts rolling and you’re watching and listening to yourself right from the first word that came out of your mouth. Do you think there’s a possibility you see that your word choices don’t translate as gently or kindly as you’d intended? Or even if the word choices themselves were okay the tone you attached to them very easily could have completely changed their meaning from your partner’s perspective? From this new vantage point can you recall times when you were in your partner’s shoes, when you reacted to something they said and saw their dismay at your reaction? Can you see that maybe they too had truly meant to say “A” and it came out as a clear-as-a-bell “B”?
The point of this make-believe scenario is to bring awareness to the very real possibility that what we say out loud may land in a completely unintended way and that it’s important to stay mindful of the HOW we’re talking as much as the WHAT we’re talking. Of course we’re not mind-readers so we won’t necessarily know if our words have been misunderstood or misinterpreted. So we need to check in with the listener with a ‘does that make sense?’ or a ‘how are you with this?’. Another way to avoid misinterpretation is for the listener to let the speaker know right away if they’re feeling like the tone is sounding somewhat angry, defensive or aggressive – they can say “I’m hearing ____, am I hearing it accurately?”
This can go a long way towards stopping a potential escalation of anger in its tracks. Give it a try. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it went.