Communication is like milk: it does a body good. But what happens if that milk sits in the refrigerator for too long and doesn’t get used? It spoils and turns sour. The same thing happens to communication when you stop using it. Pretty soon you’ll be constantly hearing yourself mumbling things like, “Wow, it would be so great if someone would just show a little bit of initiative and put the dishes away without having to be asked… just one time!” And “They should know I need help. Can’t they see how stressed out I am??! They are so ungrateful and lazy!”
Enter bitterness, resentment and more silent treatments — more sour milk. When feelings and emotions are pushed to the back of the “refrigerator,” they’re going to get buried behind all the other products that keep getting stacked in front of them. Eventually, when the refrigerator door is opened, everything will come spilling out into giant mess. You’ll be left with a huge heap of spoiled, unhealthy words and regret.
So what can you do differently to ensure the milk — communication — gets used before it expires and causes everyone in the house to get sick?
- Get it off your chest — effectively. Just like the dairy product itself, unless your thoughts are poured out of their container they will go bad. Helping people understand your needs, feelings and perspective by using your “I” messages is the most effective and healthy way to express yourself. You can start by saying something along the lines of, “Hey guys. You know, when I see the dishes piling up in the sink and the pile keeps getting taller and taller, I tend to get frustrated because I feel like no one even cares that I’ve had a long day and am exhausted. It would make me feel so much less overwhelmed and cranky if you would put your used dishes in the dishwasher after you’re done with them.” After all, who can say no to that?!
- Give them a turn. Once you’ve had a chance to let everyone know your side of the story, actively listen to theirs as well. Here’s the catch: rather than dropping the, “Yeah, but YOU…” on them, ask them to explain themselves if there’s any confusion. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Are you saying x, y, z?” This gives them a chance to get things off their chest too, be more receptive and less defensive. Keep in mind they’ve had events happen during their day as well, and unless you talk about them you’ll never know what’s been shoved in their refrigerator to hide their own milk in the back of the ice box.
- Be grateful. Each person walking this planet desires to be acknowledged and accepted unconditionally. One of the most effective ways of demonstrating this to them — along with the use of your “I” messages, of course — is letting the person know you appreciate their efforts. Taking the time to say, “Hey, thanks! I noticed you put those dishes away without me having to even mention it,” helps that person feel acknowledge and accepted. You’ll be building self-awareness and self-esteem by mentioning behaviors as opposed to labeling the person himself as either “good” or “bad.”
- Keep practicing. Once you try out Steps 1 and 2 a few times, you’ll be amazed at the results. Every now and then, however, those sneaky old habits will tiptoe their way back into the room and have any one of you bottling up your perspectives again. But fear not! Never underestimate the power of the mighty, “I’m sorry. Can we start again?” technique. As with any new skill, it takes a few rounds of practice to get good at what you’re learning. The more you practice, though, the easier and more natural it will become. Guards will be continually be lowered, communication will consistently be restored and desired outcomes will be the norm for everyone.
Communication: it does EVERY body good…