There is a famous quote by Paul Watzlawick, a "communication theoretician" and influential figure in psychotherapy and family therapy: "You cannot not communicate." Even not communicating is itself a message. His influence along with writers on assertiveness, such as Manuel Smith form a core of much cognitive psychotherapy and personal coaching. On the one hand, it's sort of intuitive, like much in psychology, but not something many of us think about until we have an epiphany and snap awake out of our usual mesmerized states and see something obvious for the first time.
Here is one of what will hopefully be many rules on how to communicate strategically and intentionally. But before that tip, a comment on "strategically and intentionally." Many of our interactions become automatic and we respond without much thought. And since humans learn to respond automatically for efficiency, like in typing or driving a car, often our automatic responses are ideal. But the automatic responses that lead to problems and need for conflict resolution would be best examined to see if they truly are strategic and intentional. In other words, do we want to just express anger because that's our usual pattern or we feel slighted. Or do we want to be influential and solve problems.
Rule 1. Assertive, effective communication typically relies on using the pronoun "I" instead of "You."
If I'm communicating to someone, it's my thoughts, feelings and intentions, and they are more likely to be received without red alert defenses going up in the other person if I label them truthfully as being mine by stating "I" want, think, feel, wish, etc. That is difficult because it's not as common in everyday language as would seem reasonable.
Even if it's difficult to not include a "you" in the sentence, start with the "I." I prefer that you not be late. Or I plan to leave on time. Not, "don't you be late." Sure that's a benign example, and fine to say to a buddy along with a smile, but I've seen plenty of couples that even such a benign insertion of the word "you" triggers defensiveness, retaliation and conflict, when simply saying what "I" want, works so much more smoothly. Again, being aware of intention is important. If my intention is to fight or criticize then "you" may be the best word choice.
Here's a great example of terrible communication that I ran across today, from one professional level adviser to another professional.
"YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS!!!"
No it wasn't excitement about some cool new song, it was in regards to problem solving in an organization, stated in condescending anger. Later the poor communicator even admitted that hostile remark was based on an uncontrollable feeling, not on strategic intention and problem solving. Another issue to be addressed later.
In this case the receiver of the message, being an astute professional, knew not to bite the hook of this verbal assault (see next blog entry), but the person who wrote this ALL CAPS!!! showed their poor communication skills, lack of problem solving ability, and generally embarrassed themselves, if they have the insight to be aware of that. An effective communicator or a spouse wanting to solve a problem and avoid a fight could have easily used Rule #1 and stated: "I would like" or "I want to express" or at the least "I want you to hear this," but even that is a poor way to state it, unless as in this case the message was to show arrogance.
I recommend using "I."
Not: You should use "I."
COMING SOON: Rules on: "want vs. need" "avoid absolutes" "when to obfuscate"
If you can't wait (yeah I meant to use "you" there) or read Smith's book, go to the cheat sheet of tips on an earlier blog entry.
Another excellent book on communication I hope to write about later, is "How to Argue and Win Every Time, by Gerry Spence.