A man came into my office some years back and his abrasive interactions with his wife, in my presence, caused me to ponder the reasons behind his aggressive and painfully degrading verbal comments. Communication is purposeful; meaning when someone is angry or aggressive, in tone and body posture, he or she is trying to communicate ideas and accomplish something. The aggressive person is trying to get something to occur by being aggressive.
What’s Your Point?
It can be helpful to ascertain the goal of your dialogue or interactions with others. What are you hoping for? What are you trying to communicate? What was the man who came into my office with his wife trying to get at, control, or influence with his aggressive style? Answering these questions will give us clues about the overall goal.
A Reasonable Goal
So what was his goal? He wanted his wife to listen to him and understand him. He wanted a peaceful day, cooperative children, a clean house, and several other reasonable desires. In many cases, like his, a reasonable goal is being communicated. I love his goal – but I hate his tactics. He is trying to argue his way into cooperation and fight his way into a peaceful relationship. His goals of family cooperation and peace are admirable. However, his barbaric tactics are achieving results that are in direct opposition to his goal.
Examine Your Tactics
It’s not the overall goal of the man or the goal of his communication – rather it is the way he is trying to get what he wants that becomes problematic. His tactics are ineffective and very likely counterproductive. If he continues to use problematic – that is to say – less than productive tactics, the goal is pushed further away. The very opposite of what he desires now begins to occur. Therefore, it is necessary to keep the goal but change the tactics.
Changing tactics requires several key skills:
- Identify your goal. In communication, and especially in arguments, the point is often unclear or lost, especially as the volume increases and tone intensifies. Clarifying your own goal will help you be increasingly more effective in your communication.
- Examine your tactics. Ask yourself what tactics are you employing to gain the goal? Often times the goal is not the problem, but rather the tactics that you use to obtain a solution or fix a problem. Are you harsh, commanding, or demanding? All too often people win a small skirmish but do exceedingly horrific damage to the relationship in the process.
- Respond with kindness. Ask yourself how you typically respond when your goal is frustrated or thwarted by other people or by exasperating circumstances. This will lend insight into your typical tactics. Can you keep your overall goal, yet respond with patience, compassion, and kindness?
- Get Perspective. Reflect on how your tactics affect those closest to you. In this step you are not examining the worthiness of your goal, but rather the effectiveness of the tactics you use to accomplish your goal.
- Develop self-control. The ability to identify hurtful tactics, and change them for the sake of your goal and the benefit of a relationship, requires self-discipline. You can learn to manage frustration, communicate clearly, understand another person’s perspective, and increase patience.
- Get feedback. Ask others how they perceive your tactics. Honest examination, and acquiring the insight and support of others, can make valuable tactical changes possible. Be aware of the tendency to shift blame, find excuses, and rationalize hurtful communication styles. Instead, use the feedback from others to develop your character and make positive changes in your behavior.
Changing how you communicate your goal, and how you handle the frustrations when your goal is blocked, can make an important difference in the quality of your relationships. The quality of your communication is not determined only by the words used, but by the relational connection gained. With some added style, charm, and warmth, your goal of harmony and understanding may only be a sentence away.
Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!