Me Make Myself Perfectly Clear
Learning to Communicate in
by Linda Kondracki
When I was growing up, I remember
playing a game we called skid talking. Skid talking was a way of
mixing words together that left you scratching your head and saying,
"What???" For example: "If my grandmother were alive
today, she'd roll over in her grave."
As a game, skid talking was fun. However, many of us grew up with a
form of skid talking as the primary means of communication in our
families. As a result, we learned to use unclear statements and
manipulative behavior in our communication with others. Examples:
Blaming, Guilt or Shame Messages:
"If you ever came to dinner on time maybe we could all enjoy a
hot meal for once!"
"What does a person have to do to get some help around
By my actions, I tell you something is wrong; it's your job to pry out
of me what it is.
Acting sick or needy.
Complaining about stomachs, headaches, always on the brink of falling
apart, etc. is the way I try to get my needs met.
Hoping/wishing you will give me what I need, without giving you any
clues as to what that is; "if you loved me you'd know what I
A big part of our recovery is learning to communicate in healthier
ways. We send straight, clear messages by saying exactly what we mean
and asking for what we need. In short, we use a formula that looks
Say what happened + how you feel about it + what you need
- Say what happened. Use factual
statements that focus on behavior not personhood, rather than
using guilt or shame messages that focus on telling the other
person they are bad or stupid for acting the way they did.
- Say how you feel. Use
"I" statements to own your own feelings and take
responsibility for your own actions. Avoid "you"
statements that blame the other person.
- Ask for what you need. Rather than
pouting, acting sick or needy, slamming doors or sighing deeply we
can give straight, clear messages about what we need from others.
To illustrate, here's an example your
children can understand:
Let's say your mom puts a tuna sandwich in your lunch bag everyday for
a whole month, and you feel like you can't ever face another tuna
sandwich again in your whole life! How are you going to get your mom
to stop? You could try:
Skid talking: "I think tunas are becoming extinct, and we better
Blaming/Guilt trip: "How come you never give me a good lunch like
all the other kids get?"
Pouting, whining or the silent treatment: "If you don't give me
something else in my lunch tomorrow I'll never speak to you
again!" Then you stomp out of the room and refuse to talk the
rest of the night.
Fantasy: You simply throw your tuna sandwich away each day and hope
your mom will give you something else one of these days.
The problem with all these ways is that none of them help your mom
know what you really want. You can do this by using the formula:
Say what happened:
"Mom, I'm tired of tuna sandwiches."
+ How you feel about it:
"I've had them so many times I hate them now."
+ What you need:
"I need a break from tuna for awhile. Can I have bologna
You can say exactly what you mean and ask clearly for what you need.
Practice using the above formula to give straight, clear messages by
rewriting the situations below, and then trying a few of your own.
Stacey and Jonathan are playing a game. Stacie catches Jonathan
cheating and shouts: "You cheat! I quit and I never want to play
with you again!"
Mom comes home from work tired and her three children all
"attack" her, wanting to tell her things or have her do
things. She says, "Do any of you ever once think that maybe I've
had a hard day and I'm tired? Can't you just leave me alone for two
(Possible answers: Stacey: "You cheated on that move and I feel
angry. I need you to do it over again." Mom: "My day was
really hard and I'm exhausted. Please give me a half hour to rest and
we'll all talk over dinner, okay?")
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by Linda Kondracki in STEPS Magazine.
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without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.