We live in an era when you use emojis and ALL CAPS to express your feelings. It sometimes feels like no one communicates face to face anymore. While this varies from person to person—and from location to location—there are still some constants. For example, you want to express your feelings and needs. But, whether it’s while lying in bed together or long distance via text, you wish to communicate in a non-threatening way.

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, e.g.

  • Voice-related issues. How loud we speak is major. Also, keep in mind: how much we speak and whether or not we interrupt.
  • Posture, gestures, etc. Body language can shift perception. Standing while everyone is sitting is a common example. 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 feel threatening at times. 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. The next four apply equally to online and real-time discussions.

  1. Remember power dynamics

Power imbalances are so widespread, varied, and even invisible that we may exploit them far more than we really 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.

  1. Become a better listener

If those you’re speaking to 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 our manner of communication is no easy task.

That’s why so many people choose to work with a counsellor. Your weekly sessions can serve as a communication workshop of sorts. You’ll identify patterns and discover triggers. You’ll also learn and practice new approaches.