“Without communication, there is no relationship. Without respect, there is no love. Without trust, there’s no reason to continue.” Anonymous.
Last month’s article, Being True to Ourselves, focused on the importance of owning our truth, including our most important needs in life.
In that article, I said that while we can know our truth, while we can walk through the world “as though”, there will come a time, especially in intimate relationships, when we have to put it on the line. A time when we must to speak our truth to those who need to hear it.
What I’m saying is that expressing our truth to important others is a critical part of staying true to ourselves.
But as easy as that is to say, it’s hard to do for most of us. However, having a strategy to speak on our own behalf helps. And that is the focus in this article.
But, before we launch into strategy, it is important to note, that the rationale and strategies discussed here do not apply in situations where there is violence, psychological or physical. Abusive, violent relationships are ones in which there is an imbalance of power that cannot easily be equalized between the two people involved. In such cases, these principles and strategies are inappropriate and we need expert help to keep ourselves safe.
The Essentials of Speaking Our Truth
“I am not afraid of my truth anymore and I will not omit pieces of me to make you comfortable.” Anonymous
In order to honor our personal integrity, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak our truth. At the same time, how we express our truth to someone has the potential to either strengthen or fracture the relationship.
So, what I am offering below is a way is to speak our truth, while valuing the connection we have with that other person.
Here are the essential elements that go into respectfully yet assertively communicating what we need to say to another person.
The Why (The Purpose)
We need to be clear about the purpose, of our intended communication and the outcome are we looking for. For example:
♦ Do we wish to clear up a misunderstanding or repair a conflict?
♦ Do we wish to create greater emotional intimacy with the other person?
♦ Do we wish to initiate more deeply honest communication in the present and into the future?
♦ Do we wish the other person to know what we need, value and desire?
♦ Do we wish to set a boundary with the person? A boundary is a defined limit in terms of what behavior we will accept or not accept from someone else.
♦ Or a combination of the above?
So, we need to think through beforehand what we want to accomplish or achieve in speaking our truth to someone because that will help us to form the words we will use.
The When & The Where (Time & Place)
The timing of the intended communication is important.
The best time is not in the heat of moment, for example, during an argument or in the immediate aftermath of a breach of boundaries. In that case, we will wait until things have calmed down – and, crucially, until we have calmed down.
We also need time to plan what we are going to say. So, it’s okay to wait for hours or days or longer if need be.
The location of our intended talk is also important. In most cases, it is wise to select a neutral location to meet, in other words not one which might trigger either party emotionally. At the same time, a level of privacy is needed.
A physical barrier, for example sitting at a table, is also a good idea as it provides a sense of safety for both parties.
The How (Planning & Speaking)
Importance of Planning
If left to the spur of the moment, especially where strong feelings are involved, we will likely choose our words poorly and, as a result, not achieve the outcome we are looking for.
Therefore, it is essential to plan what we will say by writing it down, memorizing it and rehearsing it in advance of meeting.
Next, we’ll look at how to structure our words so that we can get more of what we need without damaging or destroying our relationships.
The Structure and the Words
The I-Statement is one tool for achieving just that. It is an assertion about our feelings, beliefs and values. As such, it assists us to set a boundary without violating the other’s sense of safety. It is assertive without putting the other person on the defensive.
Note that it is not a You-Statement. A You-Statement accuses the other person and may also tell or direct the other person to do or not do something e.g. “You did x to me. You can’t treat me like that anymore!” Or “You did x to me. How could you?”
The I-Statement in contrast is about taking ownership rather than laying blame on the other person. For example: “I’m getting a lot of pressure from above, because I haven’t received your report yet.” Versus: “You haven’t got that report to me yet and you’re causing me lots of problems!”
♦ I-Statements do not impose feelings, beliefs and values on someone else. They don’t correct or make demands.
♦ I-Statements are assertions, which, when appropriately thought through and delivered, draw healthy boundaries in a relationship. They also open the door to respectful dialogue between the people involved.
♦ I-Statements are also a way of saying how things are for us, without using inflammatory language which will escalate conflict between us and the other person.
♦ I-Statements can also be used to deliver constructive criticism i.e. “complain” in self-responsible ways. For example: “I found this aspect of your report unclear, despite having read it several times. I wonder if we could talk about how to improve it.” As opposed to: “You need to learn how to write better.”
3-Part I-Statement (the Basic I-Statement)
The standard I-Statement has three parts:
1. I feel… (Insert feeling word – refer to a Feelings & Needs Inventory if you need inspiration.)
2. when… (Tell the circumstance that caused the feeling. Stick with the facts, sensory data.)
3. I would like or I prefer… (Tell what you want to happen instead.)
Example: “I feel upset, when you criticize me in front of other people. If you have an issue with something I’ve said or done, I prefer that you to take it up with me privately.”
Then, if it feels comfortable and safe, we might ask the other person for a response e.g. “What do you think?”. However, if we invite a response we need to apply what I call a “Listening Filter”.
The Listening Filter
If we’ve done our best to express our needs responsibly and respectfully, we can’t assume responsibility for the other person’s reactions. That’s a matter for them, just as our reactions are our responsibility. So that’s where the Listening Filter comes in.
We use the Listening Filter to silently sift through the other person’s response in terms of what’s true, what’s not true and what we’re not sure about, so that:
1. If it’s true – we can acknowledge it then and there or after some reflection.
2. If it’s not true, we don’t refute or become argumentative – we just detach.
3. If we’re unsure about what has been said, we can ask for more information – details, alternative facts. We do this without emotionality, demand and in an unconfrontational way (e.g. “Are you able to give more information?”). If after their response we’re still not sure about the validity of their feedback, we can say, “Thanks for that. I’ll have a think about it.”
Sometimes We Need Help
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou
Speaking our truth is not an exact science and certainly one size doesn’t fit all situations.
For example, sometimes we really feel stuck in terms of a particular conversation we’d like to have with someone. Or we know we’d like to engage someone in conversation in order to create deeper understanding, resolve conflict or misunderstanding, but there are circumstances which make us uncertain as to whether we should proceed or not.
This might be a good time to seek the support of an insightful friend, coach or other communication professional.
Everybody needs help sometimes and it is a mark of wisdom and courage to reach out for it when we need it. Reaching out for help is also a wonderful form of self-care.
And, in that connection, I am happy to arrange a consultation to help you with your Speaking Your Truth situation.