Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Useful Communication Phrases

Notice and Use the
Power of Words!

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/tools/phrases.htm

Updated 01-11-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 2 - learn communication basics and seven powerful skills to get more daily needs met more often. Progress with this Lessonavailalble Spring 2003 depends on concurrent progress on Lesson 1 - free your resident true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times.

      The unique guidebook Satisfactions (Xlibris.com, 2nd ed., 2010) integrates the key and Lesson-2 Web articles and resources in this nonprofit Web site, and provides many practical resources. 

      This article assumes you're familiar with

  • the intro to this nonprofit web site and he premises underlying it 

  • self-improvement lessons 1 and 2

  • effective-communication tips

  • improving communication with typical adults and kids

      This brief YouTube video summarizes key points in this article. The video- mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this Web site - I've simplified that to seven.

      The article provides a group of phrases, statements, and questions that can improve communication outcomes if...

your true Self is steadily guiding your other personality subselves; and...

you're clear enough on what you need from any communication partner; and...

you maintain a stable two-person awareness bubble, and a genuine attitude of mutual respect as you communicate, and...

you (a) use an effective Bill of Personal Rights to guide your behavior with other people, and you (b) respect their equal rights in all situations.

      Do you usually meet these criteria with other people?

The article closes with the description of a safe two-person exercise illustrating the silliness of verbal power struggles.

Useful Phrases and Questions

       When powered by a genuine (vs. dutiful or strategic) mutual-respect attitude, the questions and phrases below can help raise communication effectiveness. Experiment with them, note the results, and tailor them to fit your personal style. For each of these you don't use now, notice what you do (or don't) say - and what usually happens.

      Sense the themes of these tools, and develop your own. Brevity, focus, and comfortable eye contact help a lot. So does having your true Self (capital "S") be in charge of your personality!

      Hilight, circle, or check several of these that you want to experiment with. Then pick several more...

  • “What’s best for our marriage (or relationship) here?”

  • “Right now, I need (specifically)...  (from you)”

  • “I can’t hear you when…”

  • “What seems to help our resolution-process succeed is…”

  • “I really appreciate it when you... ”

  • “I’m getting distracted by _____. Could we stop, and resume this at (some specific time and place”)?”

  • “I’m (not) feeling heard (vs. agreed with) by you now.”

  • “I’m sorry... ”

  • “So you’re feeling... ”

  • “Yes, I’ll do that.”

  • “I (don't) need you to help me with this now.”

  • “What I see (or feel) about our (conversation) process now is... ”

  • “I love you (for / because / when... )”

  • “I think we have a values (or concrete, or communication) conflict here”

  • “Is that a request or a demand?”

  • “This problem seems too complex. Let’s see if we can break it down into parts.”

  • “My (your) E(motion) level is above my (your) ears.”

  • “I’m (not) comfortable with that.”

  • "Whoa - that's a separate problem."

  • “Does that feel like a primary need or a surface need?”

  • “I feel our communication needs aren’t matching now.”

  • “I feel flooded now. Can you slow down?”

  • “When you keep interrupting me, I feel discounted and irritated (and I need you to stop that).”

  • “I really need to be quiet, for now.”

  • “Your hand motions (or some other behavior) are distracting me.”

  • “I’d feel safer talking to you if... ”

  • “I lose trust in you (or respect for you) when you don’t follow through on your commitments.”

  • “Can you find a different way of making your point?”

  • “You seem defensive now. Are you feeling attacked?”

  • “I notice we’re talking a lot about the past, (or the future) instead of focusing on the present... ”

  • “What does (a child or other family member) need (in this situation)?”

  • “Let’s brainstorm.”

  • “I really appreciate your following through (with ...)!”

  • “When you raise your voice (yell / swear / drone on / ... ), I can’t hear you / shut off.”

  • “Who do you feel is responsible for that?”

  • “I feel put-down (discounted, ignored, disrespected, talked-down to) now. (vs. “you’re ignoring me”).

  • “I really need to take a break now. Are you willing to stop and resume at (a specified time)?”

  • "You're asking me for something that can only be spontaneous."

  • “So you need / feel / want... ”

  • “What do you need from me now (specifically)?”

  • “What are we trying to do right now?” (i.e. vent, problem-solve, create excitement, make noise, avoid silence, exchange information, ...)

  • “I feel (attacked / blamed / ignored / discounted / appreciated / heard... ) right now.”

  • “I need us to refocus on... ”

  • “I’m getting a 1-up (or 1-down) R(espect) message from you. Will you focus on that with me now?”

  • “I feel really done with this issue now. (Are you?)”

  • “Thanks for... !”

  • “I need a hearing check from you.”

  • “I need to vent, and problem-solve later. Can you listen to me now?”

  • “Do you have time to problem-solve with me now?”

  • “It would help me if you would... ”

  • “Why do you need that now? / What will happen if you don’t get _____ now?”

  • “No, I’m not able (willing) to do that (now).”

  • “Who’s needs do you feel are more important here - yours or mine?”

  • “I’m too distracted to problem-solve now. How about (...  a specific time and place)?”

  • “I disagree”, or “I see it differently.” vs. "you're wrong!"

  • “What are our options here?”

  • “I’m confused: I’m getting (vs. ‘you’re giving me’) a double message from you.”

  • “The way you express your anger really scares a part of me, and I shut down.”

  • “When you don’t look at me as we talk, I feel uneasy (or ...).”

  • “I need a hug now... ”; or “Can you just hold me for a while?”

  • “I really need some alone-time with you... ”

  • “It’s hard for me to believe you right now.”

  • “I need to know how you feel about... ”

  • “I can’t focus with you now. I’m worried / excited / stressed about... ”

  • “It helps me trust you when you... ”

  • “I’m really torn now. One part of me wants _______, and another part wants _____ .”

  • “Am I doing something that makes you feel unsafe (to talk intimately)?”

  • “I need some feedback from you on ________.”

  • “That works for me!”

  • “When you need to be sarcastic, I... ”

  • “I feel caught in the middle (of a loyalty conflict)."

  • “I need to own that this is my problem, not ours / yours.”

  • “What have (you / they / I ) lost?" (ref.  Lesson 3 - Good Grief)

  • “I think (I / we / you) did really good (conflict resolution) work here!”

  • "I feel that's a surface need. Let's dig for the primary needs underneath it."

  • "I think we have a relationship triangle here."

  • "Which of your subselves was just speaking?"

  • "I don't understand ..."

  • "Did you get what you needed here?"

  • “When you (some recordable behavior), I..." (non-judgmentally describe the specific effect on you) - "and I need (specifically) __________ now.” This is called an "I" message. They help avoid the listener feeling blamed or attacked.

      Reality check: these will just be words until you experience using them. To sense what's possible, think of a recent conflict you had with and adult or child. Review the phrases above and try saying relevant ones out loud. Then imagine how the other person might respond. I'd be surprised if you don't imagine the outcome would change...

      Another option: think of a person you often have trouble communicating with. Review these common blocks and see if any apply. Then use one or more of the phrases above the next time you talk with this person. Note any difference in the way (a) you feel, and (b) the way s/he responds. Another option is to scan these sample responses to "problem behaviors." Experiment!

      Notice what you're thinking now. If your family members don’t use phrases and questions like these, what do they use? The moral here is how you express your needs and opinions is at least as important as what you're communicating about.

The "I'm Right!" Exercise

      Are there kids or adults in your life with whom you "argue?" Do each of you get focused on "winning," getting "your way," and/or "being right"? In most cases, such contests are lose-lose, because both combatants feel disrespected, unheard, and frustrated. Better options are win-win problem-solving, or - in the case of *values* conflicts - agreeing respectfully to disagree.

       Try this safe, powerful way to illustrate the silliness and futility of "I'm right! No, I am!" battles:

  • Agree you have a power struggle, without blame or guilt;

  • Stand and face your partner from about 12" away. Each of you make an "L" shape with your right arm so your forearms are vertical and touching.

  • Clasp your right hands gently, and hold comfortable eye contact.

  • One of you start by saying with some firmness "I'm right." As you do, rotate both your arms leftward to horizontal. Don't use physical strength and don't resist - this is not a physical contest. Do not smile.

  • With steady eye contact, the second person says "No, *I'M* right!" and rotates both your arms rightward (clockwise) 180 degrees to horizontal.

  • The first person says more forcefully "NO! I Am RIGHT!" and rotates both arms leftward 180 degrees to horizontal.

  • Repeat this sequence four or more times, increasing the tone and power of your voice and the speed of arm-rotation each time. Keep steady eye contact, and don't joke or grin.

  • See what you feel and think, and discuss this together as teammates. Usually you'll both wind up laughing...

       This exercise vividly illustrates (vs. explains) the pointlessness of arguing - i.e. trying to persuade each other "You're wrong and I'm right!"  A variation is to say "I (did 'x'" and rotate) and the other person says "No, you didn't," and rotates back)  Try that for 6-8 times, and see what you feel... This exercise can be specially helpful with stubborn (insecure and/or bored) kids.

      Keep studying and applying Lessons 1 and 2 , and watch for gratifying changes in your life!

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      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?  

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