Here's a Simple Guide on How to Effectively Communicate Your Needs and Improve Your Relationships
Communicating effectively in a relationship can be hard when things don’t go our way. For example, if we were hurt by something our partner did or frustrated with a colleague during a project, we need to speak up for ourselves and let them know what isn’t working for us. This can be difficult, but ultimately makes for a healthy and fulfilling relationship. In this article we will outline 6 steps to effectively communicate in difficult situations.
How to Communicate Effectively in Difficult Situations
Maintaining healthy relationships is hard in general, and communicating our needs can be especially hard! But don't worry- we've got you covered. Here is a step-by-step roadmap on how to communicate your needs in any difficult conversation.
1. Observe your inner world
Before speaking, it's important to take a moment to observe and reflect on your internal thoughts, feelings, and reactions. This self-awareness is essential for being genuine in relationships and having your needs fulfilled.
Also, be mindful of any negative reactions you may have to how others treat you. Are you feeling annoyed, upset, or angry when someone says or does something? Do you have a tendency to suppress these reactions in order to avoid upsetting the other person or appearing too laid-back? It's crucial to recognize these cover-up reactions as well.
2. Figure out what you want
The next step involves thinking more about these initial reactions to figure out what you want in this situation. Why am I so upset? What would make things better for me? Maybe your partner always looks at their phone when you're trying to talk, and it makes you feel ignored or unimportant. Do you want them to pay full attention when you're talking? Or maybe your boss always asks you to work late on projects that could easily be finished the next day, and it makes you feel like your time isn't valued and makes you angry. Do you think it's fair for your boss to let you decide if you want to work overtime? Is that a reasonable request? Whatever it is, you need to reflect on how you feel and dig deep on what it is you truly want.
Pro Tip: The skill of introspection (aka examining your own thoughts/feelings) can be tricky to do on the spot in a conversation. It is a skill, so therefore takes practice. You can start by doing this retroactively- at a later time (or even in therapy!), unpack how you felt during a difficult conversation and determine what you would've needed in that moment or how you would've wanted to communicate.
3. Start with “I noticed…”
Now it's time to express your desires in a calm and curious manner. Although you may still feel agitated, angry, or irritated, it's important not to let these emotions guide your conversation. Allowing them to take control will only result in a hostile or accusatory tone, which will make the other person defensive.
Instead, use "I" statements to take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, rather than blaming the other person. Additionally, make sure to focus on the objective and observable behaviour that is causing your upset. Avoid making assumptions or interpretations. For instance, say "I noticed that you frequently ask me to stay late to complete assignments" instead of "You never respect my time and unnecessarily make me stay late".
4. Stay present and self-aware
Take some time to let the conversation unfold and see things from the other person's perspective. Remember, relationships are a 2-way street and we have more to consider than just our own thoughts and feelings. It's possible that there's a valid reason for someone's actions and they may not realize why it's upsetting to us.
Keep using "I" statements and stay neutral. Mindfully pay attention to your own thoughts/emotions and repeat steps 1-3 as necessary. Also, keep in mind that the other person may challenge you and push back. Stay calm and try rephrasing their words to ensure understanding - "Did I get that right?" These active listening skills are crucial for understanding others' viewpoints in conversations and to help them feel heard and validated.
5. Express Your Feelings
The first four steps of this process involve gathering information and delicately approaching the issue with the other person. Now it's time to open up and express how their actions have affected you. You can use an advanced "I" statement such as "I felt ___ when you ___ because ___" to explain how you feel in response to their actions.
For instance, in a work scenario, you might say "I feel overwhelmed and frustrated when you ask me to stay late because it cuts into my personal time and prevents me from completing other important tasks." It's important to remain neutral and composed in your tone and body language when conveying your emotions.
Pro Tip: Keeping your cool while expressing difficult emotions is not an easy feat! Again, practice this behind the scenes. You can role-play with a therapist or a trusted friend. This skill ultimately boils down to emotion regulation skills. Also keep in mind that the goal is not to become an emotionless robot during conversations- you will show emotion, but the key is not to become so caught up in our emotions that it hijacks our ability to think clearly and stay on track in our conversational goals.
6. Say what you want
Now let's get to the good stuff - expressing what you really want from the situation. This might be a bit challenging, especially if you struggle with assertiveness or tend to people-please. However, if you want to have genuine and authentic relationships, it's important to speak up for yourself and ask for what you want or need. Otherwise, you'll end up in one-sided relationships where you're always giving and sacrificing your own needs. Remember, people can't read minds, so assuming they'll "get the hint" will only lead to frustration, hurt, and disappointment. Be straightforward and concise - no need to sugarcoat, overexplain, or beat around the bush.
But Will This Really Work?
One of the biggest misunderstandings about assertive communication is thinking that just expressing our needs clearly will automatically solve all interpersonal problems. But it's not that straightforward. When we assert ourselves and communicate our needs, others may not agree or be open to changing their behaviour. They might even be surprised by our newfound voice and not know how to react. To make sure our needs are effectively communicated, we can ask them, "how does that sound to you?" and strive for a compromise that satisfies both parties.
Sometimes, even when people agree to treat you better and address the problems, they don't actually follow through on their promises, and you find yourself right back where you started. It's definitely frustrating and disappointing, but it doesn't mean that your assertive communication techniques have failed. Remember, we can only control ourselves, and how others choose to respond is beyond our control.
If you've been using these assertive communication techniques consistently and the issue still persists, it could be a good idea to reflect on your relationships. Is this person genuinely interested in working things out with you? Are you willing to continue being ignored in your relationships? Was the relationship only functioning when you kept quiet and prioritized their happiness over your own?
Sometimes, we have to face the hard truth that a relationship just isn't going to work out. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it's a part of life. If you're ready to work on yourself and find a truly satisfying relationship, it may be time to move on. Sacrificing your own needs for the sake of others will only lead to negative emotions like resentment, stress, frustration, and disappointment.
The Bottom Line
It can be tough to express our needs, especially when it involves an awkward or challenging situation. But if we become more aware of ourselves and effectively communicate our emotions and needs to others, we can develop assertiveness skills that will improve our relationships. If you're struggling with being assertive, consider reaching out to a therapist who can assist you in honing these skills. Our team provides free 15-minute phone consultations to delve deeper into your needs.
Our team of online and in-person counsellors and psychotherapists in Barrie provide quality and effective mental health counselling services near you in Barrie and virtually across Ontario to individuals (6+), couples and families. We also offer an Affordable Therapy Program that provides counselling services in Barrie to individuals (12+) who are facing financial challenges that need mental health support.