Me Make Myself Perfectly Clear

Learning to Communicate in Healthy Ways

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!"
Guesswork Messages:
"What does a person have to do to get some help around here?"
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 need!".
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 like this:
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 protect them."
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 instead?"
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.
Situation #1:
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!"
Situation #2:
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 seconds?"
(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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