Sharing feelings, whether with a partner, friend, or family member is an important part of communication and also an important part of your relationship as a whole. When you share feelings, you will see a chain reaction. Sharing feelings (both positive and negative) in a productive way allows people to be more open with each other. This builds trust, both will feel comfortable sharing more, which leads a tighter bond and a stronger relationship.
Communicating your feelings allows you to inform the other person of something he or she may have said or done and how it made you feel. If it was something that affected you negatively, it allows the person to understand his effect on you and try to do things differently next time.
And if it affected you in a positive way, he needs to hear that too! Knowing what makes you feel good (remember, nobody can read your mind – good or bad) reinforces that other person’s behavior, makes him feel good about himself, and increases the likelihood he will do it again in the future.
Communicate your feelings in a productive way
Rather than saying you are upset, try to make a clear indication of your concise feeling. Are you irritated? Hurt? Saddened? Also, be concise. When you are trying to explain a feeling, don’t bring other issues into the discussion. Don’t digress into related stories or issues.
Another part of being specific about your feeling is stating the degree of your feeling. Some people make the mistake of overstating a feeling. They may feel they need to exaggerate in order to be heard. Others may understate their feelings because they worry how they are perceived or don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. Both are counterproductive.
Be honest and upfront, and stand up for yourself! Tell her whether you are extremely angry or a little irritated.
State the behavior and then the resulting feeling
If you start by stating the feeling first (“I’m angry because you…”), it may make the listener feel defensive. When this happens, she might miss your whole message just because she already put her guard up.
Make an effort not to blame the other person. If you can just state everything as fact, she is much more likely to hear you. Use the formula, “When you (her action), I feel (your emotion).” Or even, “When (incident happened), I felt (emotion).” Make sure when you talk about the emotion, you use “I”. Don’t say, “I felt you disrespected me when you …” This is about YOUR feeling, so tell her how you feel.
Offer an alternative
After you tell someone about their action and your resulting feeling, it is helpful to offer alternatives. Tell him what you need. That doesn’t mean he has to do it, but it’s also possible that he had no idea what a difference a small change could make.
For instance, if you say, “I get a little resentful when you leave me with all the clean-up after dinner.” Follow that up with a specific suggestion, particularly one you think he might be amenable to. “It would really help if you would clear the table while I put away the leftovers.” Maybe your first statement leaves him thinking you want him to help with all the after-dinner chores, when all you want is for do a little. By telling him what he can do to change your negative emotion, you are giving him an easy guide to resolve the problem.
Hear the response
This is just as important as sharing your feeling. When you are talking about your feelings, it is not meant to be a one-sided monologue where the other person just has to listen, and then the conversation is over. If you really hear her response, you can gain clues as to how you can avoid the problem in the future.
Using the example above, maybe he’s just worn out after dinner and needs some time to decompress. If you say you resent being left with all the work, and he responds with, “Well I’m tired too!” that’s your clue about how to make it work. If you really think about what he is trying to tell you, you just might find your solution. Suggesting you wait a while after dinner is over, and then asking him for specific help just might resolve everything. Hear where he’s coming from, and look there for your answer.
Techniques to keep in mind
Your tone matters
If you want to be effective when you communicate about your feelings, it’s important to be calm. This is not a time for venting, and yelling is certainly counterproductive. The more you can make your statements in a matter-of-fact tone, the more likely it is that the other person will hear you.
It’s also important that you don’t accuse or be critical. Sometimes it’s easy to attack the other person, especially if you feel hurt, but the end result is that the person is less likely to hear you if she feels she is being ambushed.
If possible, start your conversation with something positive. You can say, “I’m really glad you work so hard to support our family” before you start the conversation about how you feel when you’re left with the evening chores. Starting with something positive puts the other person at ease. It lets him know you’re not just making accusations, but that you value him and want to make things better.
Just because you tell someone she did something that affected you negatively, doesn’t mean she will change overnight. Any behavior change always takes time and repetition to make it a habit. Try not to take it personally if you don’t immediately see the change you had hoped for. You can just go back to the first step and have a similar conversation. She might just need to be reminded, or she might just be having a hard time breaking a habit. But if you both keep working on it in a positive way, you will start to see some progress.
Practice your new technique
In order to use this communication technique, you might need to practice it a little. Your first step is paying attention to your feelings. If you are mad or upset about something, think about the event that caused it. Plug it into the format of “(Event) happened, and I feel (Emotion).” When you can, communicate that to the person involved. Keep calm, and suggest an alternative to make things better. Hear her response, and work with what she says.
You can use this technique for both positive and negative feelings. When you are still getting used to it, it might be helpful to use it as often as possible for positive feelings. That gets you into practice for using the technique regularly, and you simultaneously boost the people around you. Once you are adept at using it to communicate all sorts of feelings, don’t forget to us it for good too!
Lastly, I want to remind you how critical it is that you communicate your feelings, and that you do it often. If you feel like you need to talk about your feelings, do it soon – for two reasons. It really is easier for everyone to remember the events in questions when you discuss it soon after it happened. Talking about your emotions earlier also helps keep resentment from building.
Do you have any tips for communicating with your friends and family? What works for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!