We live in an era when many people use emojis and ALL CAPS to express their feelings. It can feel like no one communicates face to face anymore at times! While this varies from person to person, and from location to location, there are still some constants. For example, people still want to express their feelings and needs. But the settings can be varied. It could be while they’re lying in bed next to the person, it could be a text message, or it could be over the phone. I hear this question quite often from my clients “How can I communicate my feelings in a non-threatening way?”
The first thing to note is that every individual is different. One person will respond differently than another because they were socialized differently as a child, and throughout their life they’ve been influenced by different people and experiences. But there are some general themes that we can discuss as a starting point.
What makes your expression style appear threatening?
There are obvious examples, of course. When you announce that you’ll commit bodily harm if you don’t get your way, well, the threat is clear. However, on purpose or not we can often change the dynamics of a conversation in far more subtle ways:
- Voice-related issues: How loud we speak is major. Also, keep in mind the balance of how much we speak and how much we listen, and whether or not we interrupt.
- Posture, gestures, etc: Body language can shift perception. Standing while everyone is sitting is a common example of body language that can appear threatening. In addition, facial expression and physical mannerisms form a language of their own.
- Exploiting power imbalances: Not all conversations are created equal. Two people may think they’re speaking as equals, but consider the impact of sex, ethnicity, race, class, age, and position (boss-employee, parent-child, etc.).
- Being passive-aggressive: What we refuse to say carries weight. To passive-aggressively suggest opinions or to withhold those opinions breeds resentment and can feel threatening. Think about the power of keeping someone on “read” when communicating via online chat.
5 Ways to Express your Feelings and Needs in a Non-Threatening Way
1. Stay Aware of Body Language and Tone
Being the loudest or biggest or most talkative person in the room adds something to your words—like it or not. This aspect is most apparent in face-to-face situations. Consider mirroring the body positioning of the person you’re speaking to. If they’re sitting, you should also sit. If they’re sitting back in their chair, try doing the same.
2. Remember Power Dynamics
Power imbalances are so widespread, varied, and often invisible so we may exploit them far more than we imagine. A prime example is a gender-based communication. In a male-dominated culture, we may unknowingly fall into the roles prescribed for us. By definition, this tends to make boys and men appear more threatening. Keeping in mind this and similar power imbalances require us to become better listeners.
3. Become a Better Listener
If you can make someone feel heard and respected, you’ve gone a long way in creating a comfortable social environment. Turning a debate into an equitable conversation can stop it from turning into an argument or confrontation. Give the other person the opportunity to express their thoughts without interruption.
4. Appreciate the Importance of Timing
We all know the cliché: “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” It’s also when you say it (and possibly where). You may have a lot to say but that doesn’t automatically give you the right to impose it on anyone. In addition, know when to walk away. Resolution is important but not more important than civility.
5. Be Nice, Be Honest
Don’t talk down to people. There is a time and place for anger, but almost always you accomplish more by choosing calm, honesty, and respect. You’ll feel better about yourself later, too.
When the Patterns and Conditioning Won’t Budge
Much of our communication style is based on ideas, examples, and cues we learned a long, long time ago. This goes for those power dynamics discussed above but even more so it’s about our conditioning. Therefore, changing how we communicate is no easy task. That’s why so many people choose to work with a counsellor. Your sessions can serve as a communication workshop where you’ll identify patterns and discover triggers. You’ll also learn and practice new approaches to communication.
If you would like some guidance and support to change your communication style, I invite you to book a discounted 60-minute session to get started and I can guide you towards a program suited for you. Sessions can take place in-office, over the phone, or by online video conference call. You can request an appointment online or call our office at (604) 770-3038.