Much of how we communicate and express ourselves stems from habits formed as children. As we watched our parents/caretakers interact, like a sponge we soaked in how they argued, negotiated and expressed love. Subconsciously, we picked up the good and bad habits of the people who surrounded us, and without even knowing it, started to mirror such habits until they became our own.
As children we learned how to get our needs met, whether that be crying, screaming, or running away. Perhaps throwing a tantrum proved to be an effective strategy to get attention or to feel seen and heard, and voila, there begins the formation of a new habit. Unfortunately, for many, even when we grow up, we never quite shake those habits of communicating that developed in our adolescence.
While you may think you’re a great communicator, chances are, like all of us, you still have a few bad habits lingering. Communication is a skill, and one that is built. Like a muscle, the more you practice healthy communication, the better you become. The first step of evolving how your communication style is to be conscious of your habits, and how your deeply wired reactions affect others. Here are two negative habits to look out for:
Using guilt as an indirect method of persuasion
Perhaps your friend can’t make your birthday party, or a family member doesn’t come visit often enough. Do you use guilt as a way to get your way? While there are many different forms of guilt, using this negative emotion as a method to get what you want is, in essence, manipulation. The root of guilting stems from your expectations and often a sense of entitlement – you feel owed, and if someone doesn’t provide what they owe (whether that be time, energy or resources), you set out to make that person feel bad about himself/herself. My way of dealing with this is to try to not have expectations of others. Standards – yes. A high bar of respect and consideration – yes. But expectations – the feeling that I am owed anything by anyone – no. I also do not succumb to guilting and have made it one of my values to not do things out of obligation. It’s worked well so far, and since applying this philosophy, I’ve witnessed a direct correlation to the minimization of resentment in my life.
Masking your emotions by being passive aggressive
You’re angry or upset. As a reaction, you sulk, emotionally withdraw, or make indirect jabbing remarks with a negative or sarcastic undertone. These are passive aggressive behaviors that mark immature emotional expression.
This intentionally masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger is extremely destructive in relationships of any kind. Perhaps due to the fact that anger is seen as a socially unacceptable emotion, the effort to hide this natural human expression causes people to resort to passive aggression. It is also easier to be passive aggressive than it is to be assertive.
The good news is that you can evolve your communication style by changing your reactions, one experience at a time. The next time you feel angry, note any attempts of using passive aggression. Take a moment to pause and ask yourself what you are feeling, why you are feeling it, and what the most mature way of dealing with the situation would be. If you first need some time to clear your head, take that time to do so – nothing productive comes out of reacting when you’re negatively charged. Once you feel more at an equilibrium, practice stating your boundaries in a direct way. An example of how to frame such a conversation is:
“When <insert incident or cause of distress> happened, I felt <insert emotion>. In the future, I need <insert need> because <insert reason why>. I’m curious as to what your thoughts are on that.”
Instead of accusing and pointing blame, which automatically puts the other person on the defensive, you note a behavior or incident instead of character attacking. By asking the person’s thoughts, you open up the possibility for dialogue and negotiation. You’d be surprised how skilled you become at communicating once you start practicing a new, evolved way of expressing your emotions. You’ll notice that not only do your relationships and communication outcomes improve, but your own mood and energy will shift as well.