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Effective Communication

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Getting the message across

A closer look at different communication styles and how to start effectively communication today

The way you communicate has a big impact on your ability to get along with people and getting the things that you want. Good communication skills can help you avoid conflict and to solve problems. Open and honest communication is also important for making friends and having healthy relationships.

Styles of communication

Communication can be expressed in many ways and with different results.  Communication can be aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive or assertive. Poor communication often creates tension and bad feelings within relationships.

Aggressive communication is expressed in a forceful and hostile manner, and usually involves alienating messages such as “you-statements”. You-statements blame the other person, accuse them of being wrong or at fault, and can also be labeling (like calling them a name).

A person’s tone of voice and facial expressions can also project unfriendliness. Aggressive communication can send the message “your needs don’t matter,” or “I win, and you lose.” By sending this message, you quickly cut off lines for open communication. When someone speaks to you this way, how does it make you feel? Do you think this is a productive way at reaching your goals?

Passive communication involves putting your needs last. When you communicate passively, you don’t express your thoughts or feelings or ask for what you want. When you use passive communication, it feels like others are walking all over you because you don’t assert your own needs. As a result, you might bottle things up and might feel resentful. Passive communication can send the message ”my needs don’t matter,” or “you win, and I lose.” When this message is received by others, those with bad intentions could see this as a way to keep you under their control or to repeatedly take advantage of you. Have you seen this in others before, or perhaps yourself? What kind of message do you think this communication style brings?

Passive-aggressive communication is when you don’t clearly state your needs or feelings, instead using indirectly aggressive communication, such as making snide remarks, being stubborn, or sulking and withdrawing from the conversation. This style of communication looks passive on the outside, but beneath the surface, this person is acting out their aggression in a subtle or indirect way.

Those with this communication style may often feel powerless and resentful, denying there’s a problem and using sarcasm to deal with others. Essentially, this person is communicating, “I’ll seem cooperative, but I’m not going to be” or “I feel powerless to tell you how I really feel, so I’ll frustrate you instead”. What does it feel like when people aren’t upfront about their feelings with you? Can you imagine it being easy or hard to connect with someone that communicated like this?

Assertive communication involves clearly expressing what you think, how you feel and what you want, without demanding that you must have things your way. The basic underlying assumption is ”we both matter, so let’s try to work this out”. It’s seeing everyone involved in the conversation as a part of the group effort in making things work as smoothly as possible.

Assertive communication increases your likelihood of getting what you want, avoiding conflict and maintaining good relationships. Everyone can win in these situations.

When you are assertive you can:

  • Express your own thoughts, feelings and needs

  • Make reasonable requests of other people, while accepting his or her right to say ”no”

  • Stand up for your own rights

  • Say “no” to requests from others when you want to, without feeling guilty

Take this example…

Tom is feeling angry. He’s supposed to get his driver’s license next week, and for the past month his dad has been promising to take him out driving, but it never seemed to happen. Tom feels frustrated because he needs the practice before he goes for the test.

On Thursday, Tom came home from school and asked his dad if they could go for a drive. His dad said he couldn’t because he had some work to do.

Finally at his breaking point, Tom exploded. “You don’t give a damn about me. You are such a liar! You never do what you say you’re going to do,” he yelled.

In return his dad got all fired up and called Tom a spoiled brat who doesn’t think about anyone but himself. Both Tom and his dad were angry at each other after this argument.

This is a good example of how poor communication can lead to conflict and hurt feelings. Let’s have a closer look at some of the errors that led to this angry outburst.

Error 1: Making assumptions

Tom expected his dad to know what he was thinking and feeling, without clearly telling him. Until the time of the argument, his dad had no idea how important it was to Tom to get the extra driving practice. He thought that Tom felt confident about the test and assumed he just wanted to go for a drive for fun, which they could do anytime.

Tom, on the other hand, had assumed that his father knew how important it was for him to get some more practice even though he never told him, and therefore interpreted his dad’s attitude as not caring.

Assumptions occur in most relationships and people get upset because of these misunderstandings. Often we expect people to know what we are thinking—we believe that they should be able to understand where we are coming from, even though we haven’t expressed it clearly. No one is a mind reader, so it’s important to give people a clear picture of where you’re coming from and how you two can work together to make things easier.

An important aspect of good communication is to tell others what we’re thinking and what we want or need, and also to not assume that they already know.

In Tom’s case, the situation could have turned out better if he had communicated more clearly in the first place, by saying something like “Dad, I’ve got my driver’s license test on Tuesday, and I’m feeling nervous about it. Do you have some time this week to take me out on a few drives? What days would work for you?”

By clearly communicating that going for a drive is very important to him, Tom gives his dad a better understanding of where he’s coming from and how he is feeling. By scheduling a specific time, it strengthens the commitment and makes it easier for both of them to plan ahead.

Error 2: Avoiding communication

Tom didn’t say anything until he was very angry. Each time his dad cancelled the planned drive, Tom said nothing. Over time, Tom stewed about it more and more, and finally he exploded. This type of situation is like a pot boiling on the stove—if you don’t let off a little steam as time passes, eventually the pressure builds up and it boils over. Whenever we’re feeling upset, it’s better to talk about it as soon as possible, rather than letting things build up. If we say nothing, we won’t get what we want and our frustration grows.

Communication problems often arise because we don’t say how we feel, what we think or what we want. People often avoid communicating because they are embarrassed or concerned about upsetting the other person. Sometimes we just assume that others should know what we think. The problem is that when you don’t say what you need to say, it increases the likelihood of feeling angry, resentful and frustrated. This may lead to tension or angry outbursts.

Error 3: Labeling

Tom and his dad also used labels to criticize each other. Labels such as “liar” or “spoiled brat” can be offensive. When we label another person, it can feel like we are attacking them, and that person’s first reaction is usually to attack back.

Attacks lead to heated arguments and conflict. Labels are an example of alienating messages (see Error 4 below), because they criticize the person rather than the behavior. It is OK to criticize someone’s behavior (for example,“I think what you did was unfair”), but labeling the whole person (”You are unfair”) is unreasonable and creates bad feelings between people.

Error 4: Alienating messages

When we use criticism, put-downs or aggressive communication, no one wins, and everyone feels bad in the end. Alienating messages make the other person feel threatened or under attack, and usually this person will respond by attacking back. This type of communication very often leads to angry confrontations or a “cold war,” where we stop speaking to the other person, or use minimal communication.

Some examples of alienating messages include:

  • You-statements. We blame the other person and accuse him or her of being wrong or at fault. In Tom’s case, the you-statement was: “You don’t give a damn about me!”

  • Sarcasm. Sarcastic statements are negative or hurtful phrases that you don’t really mean, and are used to put another person down in a more passive-aggressive way. An example of a sarcastic statements include “Well, we can’t all be perfect like you.”

  • Negative comparisons. Negative comparisons are statements that you use when you compare a person to someone else, and in the process, you put them down for not be ‘as good’ as the other person. For example, “Why can’t you get A’s like your sister?” is a negative comparison.

  • Threats. These statements can include giving another person an ultimatum, for example, “If you don’t do what I want, then I’m going to…”

The communication problems between Tom and his father are very common ones. Perhaps you can think of some examples in your own experience, where you or someone you know has used poor communication, such as assumptions, avoidance, or alienating messages. It’s always useful to be aware of your communication so that you can avoid making these types of errors.

Getting your message across isn’t always easy. Good communication skills can help you avoid conflict and solve problems.

Whole messages

One of the most effective ways of communicating is to use whole messages. This is especially useful when you need to bring up an issue that’s difficult to talk about or makes you feel uncomfortable. A whole message involves expressing how you think and feel, while at the same time stating what you want.

Whole messages consist of four parts:

1. Observations

Describe what happened. Try to be factual and accurate, while not making assumptions.

For example, “When Mike came over the other day, you didn’t stop and talk to him.”

2. Thoughts

State your beliefs, opinions or interpretation of what happened in your observation.

For example, “I thought it seemed rude, like you don’t like him.”

3. Feelings

Say how you feel about the situation.

For example, “When you did that, it made me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.”

4. Wants

Talk about what you would like to happen in the situation.

For example, “The next time he comes over, I’d like it if you could say “hi” and to make an effort to talk to him. Could you do that for me, please?”

Learning to communicate effectively takes a bit of practice. Can you think of a situation that you’ve experienced where you needed to communicate with someone about a concern? Perhaps you even have an issue that you need to resolve at the moment. Think about it. Then take these steps:

1. Describe the situation, and who you need to communicate with.

2. Write the whole message, including observations, thoughts, feelings and wants.

TIP: If you find it difficult to say it directly to the person, write down your whole message on paper first. This can help you to clarify what you want to say and how you can say it. Just remember that even if you stumble upon your words, don’t stop mid-way. Don’t be afraid to talk things out. Let your voice be heard.

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Anger & Violence

Anger

A closer look at anger, violence, and how to cope with those feelings

Why do people get angry?

Anger is a normal and healthy emotion experienced by everyone at some point.Sometimes, anger can be a positive emotion, driving us to right wrongs or fix injustices. But sometimes a person’s anger can become uncontrollable and harmful—and it can even lead to violent behavior.

There are many different reasons why people get angry. Some reasons why you might be feeling angry include:

  • Being treated unfairly

  • Having no control over things

  • Being stressed or under a lot of pressure

  • Experiencing body changes, which cause major mood swings

  • Being depressed

  • Having a personality that has a short fuse

All of these things can lead to anger, which is an OK feeling to have. Anger can be a difficult emotion to express and manage, particularly because we have often been taught not to show or express our anger. It is not uncommon to feel guilty or ashamed about being angry, even though it’s a very normal and necessary emotion.

Anger only becomes unhealthy when it’s expressed in a way that hurts others or yourself. Likewise, if you bottle up your anger and don’t express it at all, you might find that it will come out in ways that you didn’t expect. There are many ways of expressing your anger, but becoming violent should never be an option.

Expressing your anger in negative ways

Just as everyone feels angry from time to time, everyone also expresses their anger in different ways. Some ways are more constructive than others, and chances are, you’ve learned how to express your anger and frustration from the people in your life or the situation you grew up in.

Violent behavior, toward oneself and others, can result from anger. It is one way that people express anger and try to control the situations that they find themselves in—but violence is never a positive or constructive way to deal with your emotions.

Certain factors might put you at a greater risk of acting out violently. For example, you might be violent because the people you hang out with use violence or other types of aggression. You might think violence is more acceptable because you’ve seen it on television, in the movies or in video games. You might also act violently because someone—like a bully or even a family member—is being violent toward you. If you grew up in a violent household, you might think that it’s OK to deal with your feelings in a physically aggressive way. Research shows that children who grow up with disruptive home situations might have a harder time controlling anger and are more likely to act out violently. This is often called a “cycle of violence.”

Recognizing the potential for violence

There are certain warning signs that people might have a hard time controlling their violent behavior. Here are a few examples:

  • Regular loss of temper

  • Frequent physical fighting

  • Drug or alcohol abuse

  • Vandalism or property destruction

  • Harming other living things, like animals

  • Making frequent threats toward others

Managing your anger and breaking the cycle of violence

The good news is that any learned behavior—such as violence—can also be unlearned. The key is to first take control of situations that make you angry and manage your reaction to frustration.

Here are some tips to get started:

Use your anger as a signal. When people are angry, they can say or do things that they regret later. If you feel that you are becoming angry, do something to cool down, like counting backwards from 100.

Think about the things that trigger your anger. By identifying common factors in the situations that seem to trigger your anger, you might be able to predict and prepare for future anger-producing circumstances.

Take a “time out”. If you feel that you might lose control, get yourself out of the situation that is provoking you. Tell the person or people you’re arguing with that you need some space to cool down and that you’ll continue this conversation when everyone is calm again. Take a break from the situation to reevaluate what’s happening and think about your next steps and whether any actions could be potentially harmful. Keep telling yourself “I can calm down” and “I’m not going to let this get to me.” Going to a quiet place to chill out will allow you the time to gather your thoughts and feelings to go back into the conversation feeling confident.

Use this time out to think about what really is going on. For example, if you’re feeling angry because your teacher or boss yelled at you, your anger might be stemming from a deeper feeling of inadequacy or disappointment in yourself. Your feelings are often deeper messages. Question why you’re actually feeling this way.

Use your coping skills. Doing something active like kicking a soccer ball, punching a pillow, working out, or going for a run can help you release some angry energy and calm down. Playing video games is another great way to channel anger and violence into a place where it’s more appropriate. If you feel as if you are going to get into a fight, it’s better to do it in a video game than in real life. Music is a great way to release extra energy and get over the intense feelings you have. Strap on the headphones and play your favorite music for a while. It might be helpful to even make a playlist with some jams on it you can listen to when you’re feeling angry.

Talk to the person who is making you angry. When feeling more in control of your emotions, explain your side of things and assert your opinions in a positive way. For example, use “I-statements” such as, “I feel this way because…” Be prepared to keep your cool if the other person doesn’t respond the way you think he or she should.

Respect others’ opinions and reactions. It is important to remember that you can only control your reactions to situations and you can’t control the other person’s. Remember, it’s OK to disagree. If you’d like more information on conflict resolution, check out our Resolving an Argument article.

Don’t let it all hang out! While it’s important to express yourself, it isn’t always best to “let it all out.” In fact, fully acting on your angry feelings without taking others into consideration could actually have negative and harmful consequences. Try to be mindful of the time and place you’re sharing your feelings and be mindful in how you’re doing it.

Avoid using drugs and alcohol. Sometimes it’s easy to turn to substances like drugs and alcohol to help you forget or suppress angry feelings, but the relief you get from drugs and alcohol is only temporary, and the side effects of abuse can make a situation worse.

Talk to someone. Friends and family can be great sources of support if you’re feeling angry and frustrated—as long are you’re talking with them in positive ways and not taking your anger out on them. It can be relieving to vent about your frustrations and get to a place where you can laugh about it. If you don’t have anyone to talk to in person, there are lots of apps and online support groups you can join to find support.

What can I do if I keep getting angry?

If you find that you keep getting angry, or that you are lashing out and regularly becoming violent toward people or things, it may be helpful to speak to a friend or family member, or a healthcare professional like a counselor or your doctor. Speaking to someone may help you identify why you’re getting angry and help you deal with your anger so you don’t need to resort to lashing out.

 

Information for this article was provided by: