There is a normal cycle that should be followed in communications: First the speaker brings up a subject. The listener acknowledges by nodding, saying yes or in some manner indicating they are listening. The speaker pauses or stops. The listener gives feedback or acknowledges. Perhaps by rephrasing in their own words. “Is this what you mean?” “I agree.” or “I disagree.”
The speaker acknowledges, listens and gives feedback on the listener’s feedback. “Yes, that is what I was trying to say.” “No, I was really trying to say this.”
When the subject is closed it becomes the listener’s turn to begin a new subject as speaker and the cycle is continued.
We each process information differently. Some people use visual verbs, some use auditory verbs and some use kinesthetic verbs or feeling verbs. When we use the same type of verbs we feel like we are in tune with each other. Find out what kind of verbs you like to use and learn to use other types as well. Listen to others and learn to match the verbs they are using. It will make the communication better.
Visual: “I see what you mean.”
“It is not very clear to me yet.”
Auditory: “That rings a bell.”
“I hear what you are saying.”
Kinesthetic: “That doesn’t feel right to me.”
“Get a grip on things.”
Obviously phrases like: “I see what you are saying.” are not good practice even though we hear them all the time. We can’t see what someone is saying. We hear what they are saying.
Beginning Conversations/Ending Conversations
As strange as it may sound many of us don’t know how to begin or end conversations. We miss out on making good friends simply by not being able to introduce ourselves. At other times we become trapped in conversations that we don’t want.
Practice beginning conversations and ending conversations with a partner until it becomes natural and smooth. Better yet practice all of these skills and keep them handy just in case you need them.
“Hello, my name is…”
“Hello, may I help you?”
“I would really like to hear more later when I have time.”
“Can we talk again sometime?”
Forcing Conversations/Avoiding Conversations
With a partner take turns playing each role and have some fun with it. One of you try to force the conversation and the other try to avoid it. See who wins and why.
“Excuse me. I need to talk to you for a minute.”
“Hey you in the red shirt.”
“I don’t have time right now.”
“I’m busy right now, perhaps we can talk later.”
Changing the subject/Returning to the subject.
This is perhaps the most powerful technique available. Learn how to change the subject to one that you want. When someone avoids talking about your subject keep returning to it. Most people talk in a random manner with one unrelated thought leading into another.
Random association is the rule. By deliberately choosing the subject you control the conversation.
“Don’t you have a car like that one?”
“But what about …”
“I don’t see what this has to do with …”
“Weren’t we talking about …”
Interrupting the conversation/not being interrupted.
Practice these with someone until you get good at them and see how fun communication can be.
“Excuse me, I have a 2:00 appointment.”
“I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
“Let me finish what I’m trying to say first.”
“This will only take a minute.”
Expressing Joy/Dealing with joy
“I’m so happy I could scream!”
“We could have so much fun!”
“Let’s do it!”
“You look really great today.”
Expressing Sadness/dealing with sadness
“My car just broke down and I don’t know how to get home.”
“I just can’t seem to stop crying.”
“Here’s a Kleenex.”
“Do you have anyone to talk to?”
Expressing Anger/Dealing with Anger
“I’m warning you.”
“I’ve about had it with the people around here.”
“What are you so mad about?”
“Did I do something to offend you?”
I’ve given some sample ideas to get your thoughts moving. Practice some of these with a partner and get good enough at them to use them in conversations at will. Each one will be a valuable tool that you can take with you. It will be there when you need it.
When we see a person at work or on the street do we know if they act that way at home? Do we always know how our kids act away from home? Do we act differently at home and when we are away from home?
Each individual is very complex with many hobbies, interests and life experiences. Even if we know someone very well we can still be surprised at the things they do.
We use the limited knowledge that we have about people and form images or stereotypes. We use these images to help us understand and deal with every person in our lives. Because of these images or stereotypes we are sometimes surprised when people don’t respond the way we are expecting them to.
We may even need to re-evaluate others and treat them differently as we learn more about them. One of the most powerful ways to achieve our goals and to experience the things we want in life is to act, dress and live in a manner that will create the image or stereotype appropriate for achieving our goals.
Through repeated exposure to the image we are projecting others will stereotype us in a manner that is consistent with our goals and treat us the way we want to be treated. When people don’t recognize the image we project the will create one of their own and we probably won’t like it.
Who wants to be labeled as a loser or a freak? We have to give people clues about how we want to be treated. First we create a general image or stereotype that is recognizable to others. Then we can create a sub-category that is unique and individual that reveals more of our true inner self.
We must be true to the stereotype that we project and at the same time be true to ourselves. Remember an image or stereotype tends toward self-fulfillment because everyone else constantly reinforces it. It is up to us to choose what we want to be in life.
Body language communicates far more than we ever do with words. Some estimate that as much as 90% of all communication is non-verbal. Anyone interested in true self-empowerment should have a basic understanding of their own body language and the body language of others.
Here are some simple things to notice when you are around other people.
Are the legs crossed? (Is there tension?)
Preening-patting hair, smoothing shirt or dress, straightening tie. Constant movement-can’t sit still, ill at ease, is not giving you their full attention.
Hand movements-what are the hands doing, clenched or open, in pockets or hidden.
Nervous movements-tapping pencil, moving leg.
Movement toward or away from you.
Arms crossed on chest.
Relaxed or tense.
These simple things will tell you a lot about a person and what is going on with them. We learn by doing. Practice some of these things with a partner to see how they feel. Take turns doing each position and become aware of how they make you feel. What things are uncomfortable? Are they things you can’t do?
Eye Contact/No eye contact
One person tries to maintain eye contact and the other person tries to avoid eye contact while having a conversation.
Two-handed hand shake
Slumped shoulders/Erect posture
One person tries to maintain a slumped posture while talking and the other an erect posture.
Proximity Boundary/Too Close
One person moves in too close to the other person deliberately while talking. Some people find this very disturbing.
Proximity Boundary/Too far away
One person moves too far away from the other person deliberately while they are talking. See if the other person moves closer.
Standing/Sitting at desk
One person is standing and the other is sitting behind a desk.
One person is standing and the other remains sitting in a chair.
One person remains turned 45 degrees away from the other person while talking.
The object of these exercises is self-discovery. Learn how they make you feel and learn how they make others feel. Practice them and use them consciously and deliberately to be more effective in your communications with others.
The Will to live
There is an instinct or primal will to live deep within each one of us. It is the collective will of the human species to survive into the future, to grow and to expand. There is something within us that wants the human race to be alive billions of years into the future when our sun goes nova or dies out. There is something within us that wants the human race to explore the stars, build cities beneath the oceans and on top of the highest mountains.
This something wants us to go ever onward in the face of overwhelming opposition. This is the force that we need to tap into when we wish to assert ourselves in life. We need to believe in both the human race and in ourselves and in our right to live the type of life we each desire.
Assertiveness is the taking back of personal power. We choose to create the type of world we want to live in and we believe in our ability to make a difference.
Manipulation traps are unfair ways we try to take advantage of personal relationships and force people into giving us what we desire. Understanding manipulation traps and how to avoid them is vital in reclaiming our personal power and being assertive.
“How can you treat me like that?”
“I’ve been waiting all week for you to call.”
“It’s your fault that I’m upset and can’t get to sleep.”
Making someone feel guilty is a common manipulation technique. It weakens and destroys a person’s self-esteem. No matter how upset you are with someone or their behavior you don’t need to make them feel guilt. There is no reason someone should make you feel guilty. Guilt destroys our sense of who we are.
Instead of making a person feel guilty focus on the behaviors instead.
“I don’t like it when you treat me like that.”
“I have been hoping to hear from you all week.”
“Our argument got me upset and I can’t sleep.”
These responses communicate the same feelings or information without making the other person feel guilty. When a person feels guilty they feel attacked and hurt. They are also put on the defensive and may fight back in self-defense.
Yelling and intimidation to your face. Unfortunately making a scene in public does work for many people. I’ve seen a Lt. Col. Plead with an outraged Sgt. asking her to calm down and stop yelling.
Being considerate and respectful is expected public behavior. People that yell and throw temper tantrums to get their own way are deliberately being rude and disrespectful to cause discomfort. It makes people back down simply because they are uncomfortable.
This is unfair. You can not let someone get their way by intimidation. Once you give in they will constantly take advantage of you in the future.
You don’t want to play bingo. Your spouse accuses you of never wanting to do what he or she wants to do. You go play bingo. This is a variant of the guilt trip manipulation. Compromise is an important part of any relationship.
“If we go to bingo this week can we go bowling next week?”
If I do this for him, he’ll have to do something for me.
“Here is a free sample; can I have a minute of your time?”
In my mind this is one of the worst manipulation traps. Someone does something for us that we are not asking for or perhaps even expecting and they demand some type of payment or response for what they have done.
“Well I do all the cooking and cleaning around here. The least you can do is take out the garbage.”
The problem is that solutions are not negotiated. Everything is one way, the way the manipulator desires.
What is wrong with:
“I’m going to do the cooking. What are you going to do to help?”
“Can we take turns cooking and cleaning?”
Give the other person a chance to take part in the decision making process. Let their opinions count and their feelings be heard.
“If you do that I’ll never talk to you again.”
“If you are going to do that you might as well never come back.”
These are obvious strong-arm tactics to get what you want at any cost. You have raised the stakes so high that there is no negotiation or discussion at all. This is totally one way and grossly unfair. Such extremist behavior can not allow relationships to grow.
“You’re the only one that can help me.”
“How do you expect me to wash the dishes and still get my homework done?”
Pretending to be helpless when you are not is all too easy. At first people are willing to help but later this behavior builds deep resentments and may even cause people to avoid you. Learning to do things and becoming competent is one of the greatest joys in life even if it is hard at times.
“Will you show me how to do this?” is a lot better.
“That looks like you.”
“You must be related.” (The idea is that the teasing hits too close to home and is hurtful not playful.)
“Why did you stop at the bar last night?” (You already know the answer but just want to watch him or her squirm and try to get out of it.)
“Are you still driving that old wreck?”
“Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
This manipulation can be very frustrating because either way you answer the question puts you in a bad light. This is the kind of manipulation that makes people look like fools and no one likes that.
Manipulation traps are not fair. There are healthy ways of getting your needs met within relationships. They are win-win solutions that allow personal growth and respect for each other at all times. Instead of needing to be in control ensure both of you have choices and that the choices are mutual.
One person can not be making all of the choices in a healthy relationship. All to often the helpless manipulation comes up. Teach each other how to cook a meal, clean the bathroom, start the lawn mower, and check the oil.
Allow each other to become successful in more areas and take joy in their successes. Getting even is a form of revenge. It doesn’t belong in relationships. Replace getting even with justice and fairness. When things are unfair talk about them and find solutions that work for both of you.
Antidotes to manipulation traps
Ignore trap and repeat what you want in a calm voice until they give up. This may take 4 or 5 repetitions. Don’t get drawn into the trap. Stay focused and repeat the same words. They understand, you don’t need to say it several ways.
Without putting yourself down or apologizing state what it is that you want.
“I want to stay at my current job. I don’t want to move closer to your parents.”
Respond calmly, acknowledge there may be some truth yet you still will continue to do what you believe is best. Don’t apologize-continue to do what you want.
“I understand that I could find a better paying job. I like the one I have. Money is not everything that is important to me.”
Ask questions about the problem until the complaints are exhausted. Admit a mistake or fault without apologizing for it.
“I said I would take out the garbage and I forgot. I will do it as soon as I am done with the paper. Is there anything else you are angry about?”
Compromise without loss of self-respect
Relationships are two way things. Both people have needs to be met and they are not always the same needs. It is important to finds ways to be supportive of each other’s needs and allow compromises when needed. At times it is important to give in as well. Which is more important that tie or the relationship?
changing the subject to something more interesting. This is a lot easier to do than most people would think.
“Is that your dog?” or “I need to go to the bathroom.” can derail most unpleasant discussions.