Communicate Your Feelings Effectively… In 2 Simple Sentences

When our feelings flare up, we tend to communicate our feelings in the least effective way: we blame, criticize, manipulate, or demand.  The problem feels like the OTHER person’s actions, which we view as “causing” our hurt or angry feelings.  In that moment, it seems like the only solution to our pain is for the other person to immediately stop, apologize and try to make up for the pain they caused or be punished because of it.

The problem with blaming, criticizing, manipulating or demanding, though, is that people typically react to these by defending their actions or feeling their own pain and counter-attacking.  This is exactly the opposite of what we are craving, and maybe increases our pain.  Plus – we may now have to address someone else’s pain when we are not even able to contain our own.

So – we up the ante by elaborating on our blame, criticism, manipulations and demands, which may provoke the other person to do the same… on and on we go.

How do we stop this painful cycle?  Or better yet – prevent it from happening at all?

Here is a simple two-sentence template that you can use when you get triggered (based on the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life):

When {observable event} happened, I felt {feeling} because I need/value {underlying need that felt unmet or value that felt jeopardized}.  Would you be willing to {specific request that person could do} in the future?

The “observable event” should be something objectively observable, rather than an interpretation (e.g., “you rolled your eyes” NOT “you dismissed me”). Remember that you don’t want to get bogged down in whether your interpretation of the other person’s actions was correct.  This can derail your efforts to get a good response.

The “feeling” should be something that is an actual feeling, rather than a judgment or interpretation (e.g., “I felt sad” NOT “I felt like you did not love me”). Sometimes, it is hard to separate our actual feelings from our interpretation of the other person’s actions.  Generally, if you say you “feel that…” “feel as if…” or “feel like…”, those are judgments or interpretations, and they are more likely to generate defenses from the person you are speaking with, rather than what you are looking for.

The “need/value” that underlies the feelings may not be obvious, but do your best.  Try to state this need or value in the broadest sense that is not specific to the other person.  For example, you can say “because I need to feel understood”, rather than “because I need you to listen to me.”  The first will be heard as something personal and legitimate.  The second may be heard as a criticism of the other person’s actions.

Finally, the “request” is ideally something specific, time-limited, and easily done. This is often forgotten in our communication because we feel like our request is obvious from our complaint.  It is important to let the person know what they can do that will address our feelings.  This is something positive they can do and is, after all, what we are really looking for in our communication.  Be prepared for a “no,” if that particular solution does not work for them, but you can also invite them to suggest something that would work for them.  Remember that you are requesting something from someone else, and they are free to make up their own mind about what they are willing to do.

Good luck!

Rose Rigole is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, and is currently accepting new clients. She can be reached by telephone at (424) 571-2273, by email at rose@counselingsocal.com, or via her website at http://www.counselingsocal.com.

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