Relationship Matters: Feelings and Desires

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Which statement would you prefer to hear from your good friend, a fellow employee or your spouse?

Option 1: You are a control freak with money! You are so stubborn! You never let me finish what I'm saying. I can't stand talking to you! I'm out!

Option 2: When we were talking about the budget and you interrupted me, I felt sad because I wanted to be heard.

If you compare those two statements, the first one is loaded with toxic content: name-calling, global terms and a threat. The second statement is direct, honest and expresses desire. The first statement is emotionally charged and creates distance and disconnection in the relationship. The second one models vulnerability and offers an invitation to respond. The first statement is reactionary, the second is assertive.

Learning to communicate in an assertive manner is crucial for maintaining healthy conversation, good conflict resolution and strong relationships. When we communicate that way, we express our feelings, thoughts and desires in a way where we are clearly understood by others without attacking them.

One of simple tools we learned to use and share with others is the ABCD Statement. It provides a structure to slow down the conversation at times and to gather your thoughts and speak in a direct and healthy fashion.

Here's an overview of the ABCD statement:

In situation A, when you do behavior B, I feel C and I want D.

Let me break it down.

In situation A - When offering a confrontation to someone, describe the specific situation where the conflict occurred. It may be as simple as "when we talk about money" or it may be even more specific like "last night when we were discussion our budget". The key is to set a specific context that you both will agree upon.

When you do behavior B - Again, be specific. "When you interrupt me" or "when you roll your eyes" or "when you slam a door".

I feel C - It's important that we can name what we're feeling. The goal of sharing what we are feeling is not to blame the other person for our emotion. It's your emotion. But when you do share what you are feeling you are being vulnerable and giving the other person insight to how this conversation is impacting you.

I want D - Sharing your wants and desires is not a demand for the other person to do something. You can't make anyone do something. But it removes the need for mind-reading from the other person and you courageously let your wants be known.

When we learn to use the ABCD statement, we stop blaming or attacking in the midst of hard conversations and instead we take full responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and desires and invite the other person to hear and engage with us. Obviously using the ABCD statement doesn't guarantee that you will be heard or responded to well. It takes a good listener for any message to be heard. But using this model of communication certainly increases the likelihood of a better and healthier conversation.