The first rule of good communication is this:
The Only Person You Can Change Is Yourself!
This does not mean other people can’t change — it just means you can’t change them! All you can do is communicate with them and see if they are willing to try and change. Good communication involves more than just telling someone you don’t like what they are doing. You need to be precise about three things for good communication. Good communication makes change possible so let the other person know:
- What they are doing wrong — be specific.
- How they are making you feel — be specific.
- What you would like them to do to make things better — be specific.
Make sure to use words that will not make the other person feel criticised or attacked. People switch off or get defensive if they feel criticised or attacked.
Sentences starting with “You” such as “You always…” or “You never…” can sound critical or accusing. They are also likely to be an exaggeration and that makes them easy to resent or dismiss so avoid them.
Sentences that turn how you feel into a fact will provoke denial and a sense of injustice in the other person so don’t use them. Say “When you do that I feel like you don’t love me” not “You don’t love me — if you did you would not do that”.
People also tend to ignore, or resent, statements that containing nothing but criticism. “You are a bully” or “You are a nag” may let you vent your anger but they won’t help the relationship because there is no information. Always try to use “I” sentences not “You” ones. For example “I feel bullied when you insist on having your own way” or “I feel nagged and resentful when you insist I do things now not later”.
Last, but by no means least, people can’t change if they don’t know what you want them to do instead of what they are doing now. You may think they should know how to change but often people don’t know. This applies most strongly if the person is a child or was not raised as you were. Say “Please eat with your mouth over the plate so the plate can catch the crumbs” not “Stop leaving crumbs everywhere”.
FORMULA FOR GOOD COMMUNICATION
The following is a basic formula for good communication — use it with anyone from your loved ones through to your neighbours or even your boss.
“When you…” (specify the exact behaviour or words you have a problem with)
HOW THE PROBLEM AFFECTS YOU
” I…” (specify how their current behaviour or words make you feel or what consequences these things are having on you)
HOW THEY CAN FIX THE PROBLEM
“And I would…” (specify what changes you would like them to make but make sure the request is reasonable)
MANNERS AND RESPECT
“Please.” (please is common good manners and lets the person know you are asking not demanding)
“When you forget my birthday I feel I am not important to you. This hurts me and makes me want to hurt you back. I don’t like feeling this way so I would like you to put my birthday into your mobile calendar or maybe ask someone to remind you in future please.”
It is not reasonable to ask someone to magically develop a better memory than they have by nature.
Most people respond well to good communication and reasonable requests so this formula can help with most people and in the majority of situations.
Some people, however, are not reasonable and they will not respond no matter how well you communicate. If you use this formula and the person continues to behave badly you may be dealing with a toxic personality. Those are the people you need to consider removing from your life if you can.
Sometimes it is not possible to remove such people from your life. They may be your boss, a parent or a partner but you need to be aware that such people will not change.
The real question with such people is not “How can I make them change” but “How long am I willing to put up with their bad behaviour?”