How do you know if you’re off track when communicating? If you are yelling, or your partner is yelling, you’ve gone off track. If you are resorting to name calling, sarcasm, attacking, or if you are reacting to any of the above, you’ve gone off track. If you are feeling talked down to, or if you are the one talking down, you’ve gone off track. When communication is working at its most effective, you are in an adult frame of mind. This means that you are calm and rational, emotions are moderated, and you don’t think or feel like this conversation will make or break you. If you are over emotional, either too angry or too hurt, you’re not in an adult frame of mind, and you are not likely to be effective.
When people get off track, they are not able to listen effectively. They are too heavily invested in being heard, and often unable to detach from a wished upon result. If you have started a conversation with a preconceived idea of what the end result will be, you have already gone off track. You are set up to be unwilling or unable to hear your partner, and to be present in the moment. If you are invested in an imagined end result, you are not ready to have an adult conversation.
Adult conversations happen all the time. It’s the kind of conversation you have with the man at the butcher counter. You go in, you have an idea what you want, yes. But you don’t have any emotional investment in the butcher saying or doing anything in particular. You ask, “Do you have any thick cut pork chops today?” He says either yes, no, or if you can come back in an hour I can prepare some for you. You either agree or you decide to look elsewhere. You don’t resort to name calling or sarcasm. You stay an adult.
But when it comes to conversations with our loved ones, it’s often much more difficult to let go of our hoped for outcomes. We want our partner to react to our words in a way that affirms us, comforts us, or encourages us. We want to be heard and validated. But if we start a conversation ready to blast into the anger stratosphere if we don’t get what we want, we are already off course before we even begin.
Remember my two rules from last week? Never attempt a difficult conversation when you are tired, unwell, or overwhelmed. And don’t accept one if you are not at your best either. So it stands to reason, that if your partner is tired, unwell, or overwhelmed, they might not be at their best to engage with you. Here is rule #3: Any time you attempt a conversation and it seems to get off track quickly, check to see if your partner is feeling overwhelmed. We always need to respect the reality of the person we are communicating with. If you get off track quickly, one or both of you are not in an adult frame of mind. Stop, take time to assess what has derailed you. You may decide to postpone the conversation until you can both be fully present and adult. You may be able to quickly get back on track just by taking time to recognize where the problem lies. But if you persist in attempting to communicate and you are not in an adult frame of mind, or your partner isn’t, you will end up not accomplishing much except a lot of mutual frustration.
If you are having trouble keeping your conversations on track, or if you have other relationship issues and you think you’d benefit from some professional help, call me: 831-214-8087.
Wishing you adult, effective, and fulfilling conversations.