Sunday, May 5, 2013

12 Rules for Constructive Communication

Destructive communication erodes self-esteem and harms relationships. Such communication patterns may be destructive, but, sadly, plenty of people fall into the trap of indulging in them. If you and your relationship partners follow these rules and steer clear of the traps of destructive communication, you will almost certainly feel better about each other and your relationship.

**Use I-messages instead of You-messages**

You-messages sound blaming and accusing. With an I-message, you can convey the same message without sounding blaming. 

For example:
You-message: "You left the dishes in the sink again."
I-message: "When you don't clean up after yourself, I feel taken advantage of."

**Communicate the entire message**

Complete messages include four components:
Observations: neutral statements of fact
Thoughts: your own opinions and beliefs
Feelings: descriptions of your emotions
Needs: a statement of what you need or want from the other person

Example: "The weekend is coming up. I hope we can go to the movies together. I would like to spend some time with you."

An incomplete message leaves out one or more of these components. It might sound like this: "I hope we can go to the movies this weekend." There isn't really anything wrong with this statement, but the first one is more complete and will more likely result in the speaker getting what he or she wants.

**Don't use your feelings as weapons**

Describe what you are feeling as objectively as possible, not aggressively. Be specific and keep your voice under control.
For example:
Objective: "I felt really hurt when you said that I probably wouldn't pass the bar exam the first time."
Aggressive: (yelling) "You are such an idiot! How dare you insult me like that!"

**Use specific language** 

When you have a complaint, be specific. For example, "I'm upset that you left the food out on the table" is clearer than saying, "Thanks for the mess you left me." The first statement is less likely to produce defensiveness and leaves little room for misunderstanding.

**Focus on the problem, not the person**

Consider how different these two statements sound:
"You are such a complete slob."
"I wish you would take your stuff upstairs."

Attacking someone's personality or character—rather than a specific behavior—is different from simply expressing a complaint. A complaint focuses on a specific action.

Criticism is more blaming and more global. It sounds like this: "You always mess up the budget. Can't you do anything right?"

Behavior like this is damaging to a relationship because:
· Criticism is destructive rather than constructive.
· It involves blame.
· Criticisms are global and tend to be generalizations (you always, you never, etc.).
· Criticisms attack the other person personally.
· It feels overwhelming to be on the receiving end.

**Stop bringing up ancient history** 

It's more constructive to focus on the issue at hand, and not bring up past hurts. When you are upset with your partner and add past issues to the discussion, it can only escalate the conflict. It feels unfair and can never be productive. If you still have feelings about past issues, it is important to resolve them and move on, not use them as weapons every time you have a disagreement with your partner.

**Watch out for mixed messages** 

Keep your statements clean, avoiding the temptation to mix compliments and complaints. For example, let's say that you meet your friend at a cocktail party. You think she looks nice, but her dress seems a little too provocative.

Straight message: "You look very nice tonight."
Mixed message: "You look so pretty. I would never have the nerve to wear that."

**Pay attention to your body language** 

Your words are only part of the message you communicate. If you say "How nice to see you" while frowning, your message becomes unclear. Think about what message you want to convey and be sure that your body is in harmony with it. Watch out for things like these:
· Rolling your eyes
· Crossing your legs and arms
· Tapping your foot
· Clenching your teeth

**Pay attention to your emotions and keep from becoming overwhelmed**

If you are calm, you are less likely to say things you'll later regret, things that could be destructive to your relationship. You will be less likely to become defensive and shut your partner out. Here are some ways to calm yourself:
· Pay attention to your physical responses. Is your heart racing? Are you breathing faster? If you are, take a time-out.
· Leave the room. Go for a drive. Do something relaxing. Listen to music or do relaxation exercises.
· Make a conscious effort to calm yourself down. Say things to yourself like:
"I'm very upset right now, but it'll be okay. I still love her."
"Even though we disagree, we still have a good relationship."
"We can work this out. We're partners."

**Resolve negative feelings** 

If you have bad feelings about your partner, take steps to resolve them. Don't let them grow into feelings of contempt. When you engage in behavior (verbal or nonverbal) that conveys a lack of respect, you are placing your relationship in serious danger. This includes obvious abuse, and also insults, making faces, and name-calling. Any relationship that is plagued by abusiveness and negativity will have a very difficult time surviving.

**Don't be defensive** 

It is understandable to react defensively when you are in a conflict situation, but it can be dangerous to a relationship. Defensiveness tends to escalate the conflict and does nothing to resolve it. Some examples of defensive behavior include:
· Denying responsibility (I did not!)
· Making excuses (I couldn't help it; traffic was awful.)
· Ignoring what your partner says and throwing a complaint back (Yeah, well, what about the mess you left yesterday?)
· Saying "Yes," but you are whining, rolling your eyes or making a face

**Don't shut down**

This behavior is called stonewalling. You are shut down when you are refusing to communicate, storming out of the room, or any kind of withdrawing. When a person is stonewalling, communication is impossible because he or she is refusing to participate. When it becomes a regular pattern of communication, stonewalling is very damaging to a relationship.

These rules are for pair relationships, but can easily be adjusted for internet communications
In my mind the goal of internet communications, just as any other communications, is to reach a deeper understanding of others, to be understood yourself, to share and receive information and to find some sort of agreement of solutions to problems at hand.

If you "communicate" just to "win", to prove everyone you're right, to shut down the opposition, to silence diversity, you don't communicate, and shouldn't be surprised when people stop talking with you.


Blaming and accusing isn't very constructive, even when your object is a politician or some unnamed "you", "one" or "they". It always works better to say "I am horrified by what happened at the Mediterranean" than "the Israeli pirates attacked the ships and killed a lot of innocent, unarmed help workers!" Mainly because your feelings are undeniable truth, while your flaming accusations are not. 

It really isn't functional, constructive, productive, helpful or beneficial to anything or anyone to scream "Obama is a Communist Pig!" 
Of course you have the right to say anything you want, but saying anything isn't always the right thing to do. 
Think a bit what it is you wish to convey with your words. What is it in Communism you find so scary? What is it in President Obama's actions that scare you? What is it you are afraid of? What do you mean with "pig"? Barack Obama is obviously not a pig, but a human being, so which "suidine" charasteristics are you actually referring to? I doubt it is their cleanliness or intelligence ;) 

 While spreading flaming exclamations around, all you achieve is feeding panic, especially inside yourself. Soon you will be hating President Obama without being able to explain why, and won't be able to have intelligent discussions with people about why one shouldn't vote for him in the next election. I doubt that is what you wish to achieve.

So: communicate the entire message

For example:

"President Obama created the health reform.
I think it is unnecessary, too expensive, taking from the people who work to give to the people who don't work, I think it rewards lazyness and selfishness - people won't work because it doesn't pay, and because one gets on fine without working. It makes me worried for my own economy, I have to work now more to get paid the same as before, because I am forced to pay someone else's healthcare. I don't want to do that, I want to keep my money myself, and pay what I decide to pay. I don't like this at all, and I want back to the healthcare we had before."

People would probably respond by showing their compassion, agreeing with that you should be in charge of your own paycheck, and then you could discuss what could be done for the people who are too sick to work and therefore cannot afford healthcare either, or what could be done for people who suffer an accident and cannot work for some time because of that, and loose their health insurance, job, and so on.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't dare to speak openly about their own thoughts and especially their feelings, because it is common practice to mock people who express their feelings, as if feelings don't matter. 


Generalization is to be avoided, because it doesn't help solve the problems. 


There is no body language in the internet, but there are emoticons, and the use of emoticons can be just as subtle, contradictory and offensive as the use of body language. Also, one should be very careful with words on-line, as words are practically all we have to get ourselves understood.

"I can't be bothered to read that!" is equivalent to rolling eyes, and is used only to insult other people. What it really does is express some very negative qualities YOU have.


Remember, if you enter a discussion when emotionally upset, you are bound to say something stupid. You don't HAVE TO enter the discussion immediately. You can wait several days to calm down before you answer. It's the internet, not life. Your real life takes precedence over ANY internet debate. Who says you weren't sick, out of town, entertaining real life guests, your internet provider wasn't working etc. etc. There are thousands of reasons to why you cannot respond immediately. If someone expects you to respond A.S.A.P. to an email, post or comment, it's their problem, not yours. So, calm down first and try to remember what is your aim with the internet communication. No, you don't have a love relationship with all the millions of internet users, not even with your internet friends, but the aim is "to reach a deeper understanding of others, to be understood yourself, to share and receive information and to find some sort of agreement of solutions to problems at hand."

It is ok to have different opinions on things. It is ok to disagree. It is ok to express different opinions and disagreement.

But - I personally HATE "let's agree to disagree", when people use it to get out of an uncomfortable discussion, without even trying to UNDERSTAND what the other person thinks. People can be discussing of two different things, "fence and fence posts" as it's called in Finland, and then "agreeing to disagree" is saying that "you think a cat is not a dog and I think a dog is not a cat, let's agree to disagree". 

Also, one thing we cannot disagree is the rules of engagement and the common ground. We must agree on what it is we are discussing about and what is ok and not ok in the discussion.

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