We Need To Talk

What do you call it when you take multiple people with different personalities, lock them in a house together, shake up their routines, add loads of stress and a dash of uncertainty?

If you said, “The Bachelor” you wouldn’t be wrong, but I’m not talking about “The Bachelor”; I’m talking about sheltering in place.

For most of us, this is a little over a month of being isolated in our homes with at least one other human. That likely means that it’s been quite some time since you’ve truly had time or space to yourself.

Perhaps you’re noticing small idiosyncrasies or habits of your household. Perhaps those idiosyncrasies are beginning to feel like nails on a chalkboard.

Or maybe idle minds have caused past issues or tensions to resurface, creating additional stress to an already stressful situation.

Or maybe you have suddenly found yourself in close-quarters with personalities that you typically don’t jive with and try to work around by getting out of the house or creating distance.

No matter what your shelter-in-place situation, you are bound to encounter moments when you “need to talk” with someone over an issue or situation that’s bothering you.

But now more than ever it’s important to make sure you are communicating effectively because the last thing anyone needs is for tensions to rise.

Here are 4 strategies to use when communicating during quarantine and beyond:

  1. Use “I-Statements.” Instead of telling the other person, “You did _________,” speak from your own perspective. While you are still being clear and getting your point across, you are accepting responsibility for your own feelings and actions rather than placing blame or responsibility on the other party. “I-Statements” can be simple or built-upon to provide further clarification and direction. For example you could say, “I feel frustrated by you being around all the time.” Or you could say, “I feel frustrated by you being around all the time because I like to have alone time to process my feelings, and I’ve been really stressed out by everything going on but haven’t been able to relieve it.”
  • Ask open-ended questions. By asking someone a question such as, “Can you elaborate more on that?” or, “What do you mean by that specifically?” you are inviting them to share more information in a non-threatening way. Not only does this increase your understanding by prompting them for clarification, but it shows that you are engaged and interested in what they are saying.
  • Summarize and repeat. Everyone interprets and processes information differently. It is common for there to be misinterpretation or misunderstandings during conversations. In order to minimize this, it’s helpful to parrot back what you’ve heard. Using the phrase, “So what I’m hearing is…” This gives you a chance to share your take on what the other person is trying to communicate. If you are on the same page, they might say, “Yes!” If there is some dissonance and they say, “no, that’s not what I’m saying,” don’t get defensive. Instead, ask clarifying or open-ended questions and continue to summarize what you’re hearing until you both reach a common understanding.
  • Stay Physically Connected. A lot of people will say that it’s important to maintain eye contact when having a conversation. I agree and disagree with this. While it is true that eye contact is a sign of respect and appropriate in formal settings, when it comes to conversations with friends of loved ones in which there is no power-imbalance, it is not as necessary. In fact, sometimes eye contact makes people uncomfortable and less likely to open up.

However, it is important to stay physically connected in some way. If you prefer to sit across from one another, consider holding hands if it’s appropriate–even if you are angry. If you would rather sit side by side, when appropriate you can either hold hands or simply be touching shoulder-to-shoulder (This is actually how my husband and I prefer to communicate). If it is inappropriate or uncomfortable to be physically touching, still try to maintain close proximity to one another vs. sitting or standing on opposite sides of the room.

Effective communication takes practice, and it all depends on the situation and the parties involved. But there are ways to have difficult conversations where everyone feels safe, heard, and walks away feeling better rather than worse. The next time you find yourself needing to talk, try one of the above strategies and see if it improves the conversation.

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