Written by: Ashley Vicari, NCC, LPC
Professional Relations Regional Manager, The Renfrew Center
Do you ever feel like no one can hear you? You ARE talking, but it seems like it’s falling on deaf ears. I have too. When that happens, it’s easy to feel like you want to throw in the towel and give up… but there is hope!
I’ve been practicing therapy for eight years and one of my favorite areas to discuss with my clients is how to communicate their needs. Often, we view communication as a basic skill we simply possess. But I am here to tell you that we need help in this arena. Communicating our needs may mean that someone else could get uncomfortable—we must learn to be okay with that. Communicating our needs may also mean that WE get uncomfortable—we must learn to be okay with that too.
The journey towards improving your communication is both challenging and rewarding. Below are five tips to implement into your daily life to strengthen your skills.
1. Check In with Yourself
Self-awareness is crucial! Pause and notice where you are and what you are experiencing (physically and emotionally). Reflecting inwards takes you out of a reactive state and puts you in a responding state. So, how do you do this? A helpful tool we use at The Renfrew Center is called a three-point check: label your thoughts, your physical sensations and your current urges or behaviors in the present moment. Once you know where you are, you can then determine where you are going. Pausing to label the emotion you’re feeling and accept the emotional components you’re experiencing helps you to remain calm and ultimately respond more effectively.
2. Practice Non-Judgmental Awareness
As you check in with yourself to identify your emotional components, it is imperative that you practice this from a non-judgmental position. It is normal to have thoughts of judgment both of yourself, your experiences and others; but notice when you are doing so. Thoughts are not facts. Let me repeat: THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS. We all have thoughts… give yourself grace in the moment by seeing them through a lens of curiosity and compassion.
3. Feel Your Feelings
Did you know that every emotion you experience serves a purpose? Emotions exist to send us important messages about our relationships and our life. For example, the emotion of sadness can be a reminder that something did not work out and that it is okay to grieve. Listen to that. The emotion of anger can tell you when your boundaries have been crossed. The emotion of happiness sends the message to continue doing what you’re doing and celebrate! We get to feel the rush of adrenaline and serotonin and live in that moment. Part of learning how to communicate your needs means allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel. If you do not know what your feelings/needs are, you will not be able to communicate them appropriately and effectively with others.
4. Bring It Into The Room
We all know the saying: “There’s an elephant in the room…” Trust me, if you feel tension, others probably do as well. It can be good practice to label your experiences as you develop healthier communication patterns. To this point, it is also important to understand that just because you are having an emotional experience, does not mean that others are having the same exact experience. Someone else cannot make you feel a certain way and you cannot make anyone else feel something either. Our emotional responses are impacted by a collection of past experiences, past emotions, past relationships, etc. But what is important here is that you have a right to express your emotional experience. The more you can practice bringing it into the room, the more you can understand and honor yourself. YOU get to have a voice.
Brené Brown told us that: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” I want you to practice showing up for yourself. You deserve to live and thrive!
5. Use an I-Statement
If you have spent any time in a therapist’s office, you may have practiced this tool before. The gift of an I-Statement can leave you feeling uncomfortable in the moment but empowered afterwards. It is a simple tool to assist us in expressing where we are and what we need. It looks like:
- I feel: (emotion)
- When you:
- I request/I need:
Let’s use the example of trying to communicate with a friend/family member. You are doing your best with your new skills to effectively share your experience and they are having a hard time connecting with you. Perhaps they keep changing the subject or making a joke out of what you are trying to share. Also, remember if these steps are new for you, they are likely new for the one’s you are trying to communicate with as well. After taking a moment to pause and reflect on this experience, use your I-Statement. It may look like this: “I feel angry when you make a joke out of what I am trying to tell you, because I am working hard on communicating better. I request that you practice being available to this conversation without joking.” Again, this may mean that both you and the other person get uncomfortable. Learn to be okay with that.
Change takes time – both for you and for those around you. Practicing your skills and tools will be one of the best ways you can honor yourself and reinforce that your voice and needs matter. Those with whom you practice will also learn the value of what you are sharing, and in turn your communication will strengthen into something you may have never realized it could be.