It’s easy to have small talk with the barista who makes your coffee everyday or ask your boss how their weekend went when you’re awkwardly stuck in the elevator together but when it comes to speaking about what matters to us, the words just never seem to come out right… or at all.
Why are we so terrible at communicating what’s important to us, how do we ask for what we need in a relationship, set boundaries at home and in the workplace or state our viewpoints without the fear of being rejected?
This week, we’ve got our founder, Mary, on board, to help us answer some of these tough questions.
Q: Let’s get right to it. Why are we so bad at communicating in general? How do we start changing that?
Mary: Communication is an essential skill for life – but it isn’t really something that we learn in school, and it requires an understanding of our own needs, and emotional intelligence.
My family aren’t huge communicators, so I recognise the root of my struggle in talking about my emotions. Over the years I’ve had to learn that getting angry or withdrawing weren’t effective communication skills, and started to learn how to identify my own needs, label my emotions and find appropriate ways to communicate them without blaming or judging. It’s been a challenge and I’m still learning! I think it takes practice and it helps by being in relationships where you can feel safe to express yourself.
Q: How do we respond when we don’t get the response we want? Or how do we set ourselves up in a way that allows for a desired outcome? For example, if we’re sharing how we feel, can we say, “I don’t need you to respond… I just need you to listen and be here for me.” Is that a form of healthy communication?
Mary: Firstly I think we have to accept that we aren’t always going to get the response we desire when we’re communicating, no matter how much we try to get it right! With that being said, we can try to be effective in our communication by asking ourselves “What is the intention behind what I want to say?” Do you want to just be heard? Do you need to be understood, are you just saying it to hurt the other person or to be right? When you understand your intention it can help you to find your words – or rethink the way you’re communicating.
In relationships, there are two objectives – one is for harmony and the other is to be right, and they compete with each other. Sometimes, to have harmony in our relationships, it doesn’t mean our way is the only way. We can allow our partners to have their own opinion too.
I think it’s also important to consider how we react to the response we get. For example, if you’re sharing an idea at work and it gets rejected, you need to understand that they’re not rejecting you as a person. If your intention is to offer something – and if they don’t move forward with what you’ve put on the table, it doesn’t undermine or lessen who you are as a person.
Q: It’s difficult to feel present and have conversations when we’re feeling overwhelmed and under pressure. How do you communicate (at work / in a relationship) when you’re stressed?
Mary: I really struggle with communicating when I’m emotional or under pressure. I tend to be quite reactive and say things I don’t mean. Personally the most important thing for me is to recognise when I’m stressed because it allows me to have a bit of time and space before I respond to things. Sometimes I like to write things down before I say it and it may not always seem practical, but the space that you give yourself is better than saying something in the spur of the moment that might actually take longer to heal or reverse.
If someone comes up to you when you’re overwhelmed, be upfront. Say, “I’m really overwhelmed at the moment. Can you give me X amount of time?” It could be 30 minutes, an hour, a day… whatever you need. When you do that people tend to be really understanding because people don’t know where we’re at unless we communicate.
Q: Whether at work or in a relationship, most of our time is spent being with others. How do we set boundaries and communicate that? Why is this important?
Mary: Boundaries are our standards of what we will and won’t accept, they come from having a healthier sense of self-worth. Having boundaries is important because it allows you to be an individual and to communicate what your needs are, so people know where they stand with you. When individuals have good boundaries, it sets up an atmosphere of respect.
Setting boundaries with others can be uncomfortable because we’re afraid of hurting people, or feel guilty about asserting our needs and preferences but it’s better than being a ‘yes’ person and taking on too much stuff and getting overwhelmed.
You can begin by being really honest about what the behaviour is and how it makes you feel. For example, if a friend is frequently venting on you, or colleagues are dumping work on your plate, you can say: “When x happens, I feel really ____, and I’d really like it if you could ____”.
Q: No relationship or workplace is perfect. How do you ask for what you need and talk about what changes need to happen for both sides to be happy?
Mary: A really practical thing to do is to write a list of what your needs and wants are. Your needs are absolutely crucial, absolutely necessary and your wants are bonuses. If you can get your needs met that’s great, if not, you’ve got to decide if you want to stay in that job or be with the person. We often get into the trap of ‘I-want-it-all’ and I think we need to be mindful of our expectations. We also need to work at fulfilling our own needs and not expecting relationships to solely do that job for us.
All relationships can be challenging at times but it takes two people who are invested in not only expressing themselves but also listening.
How we communicate in relationships is a huge test of it’s health. I’ve noticed that when people start expressing their needs in their relationships they generally find out pretty quickly whether the people that they’re in relationships with – at work, in friendship or romance – are open to having these conversations. Know that you deserve to be in relationships where you can be heard, understood and seen and don’t take shit from people who don’t let you express yourself.
If you have more questions around difficult conversations, send them our way and we’ll try to have them answered as best as we can. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some strategies around effective communication, finding your voice, setting boundaries and thriving in stressful moments, here’s what #IndigoLoves.
This is your go-to guide. Not sure how to express how you feel or how to start that tough conversation? Let these seven steps guide you through.
It’s easy to be ruled by our emotions when it comes to giving feedback. This helpful checklist will guide you in determining if you’re ready to share what’s helpful or if you need a little more time to think about how you’d like to approach the situation.