There are lots of reasons why some people don’t know how to say what they need to say. Sometimes it comes from fear of rejection. Sometimes it is about not knowing what to say. Sometimes it’s fear that the words will be misconstrued and things will be even worse. Staying silent almost always comes down to playing it safe. Unfortunately, the downside is that unexpressed truths can lead to low self-esteem, stalled relationships, and an inauthentic life. If you’re ready to put that behind you, here is a guide for how to say what you need to say.
Accept That Your Feelings Are Valid
You have a right to be heard. We all do. If you want others to respect your feelings and your right to be heard, you have to show that you believe this! It’s a practice thing. The more you do it, the easier it will become. It’s not wrong to ask your friends, “Is this crazy?” but when you do it all the time or allow the response to hold you back, you’re invalidating yourself. Stand up, girlfriend! Trust yourself. Even when your facts aren’t straight, your feelings are. Express them.
By this I don’t mean, “I want you to …” I mean, big picture. What do you want from the relationship? Do you want it to be more honest? More intimate? Do you need better boundaries? How about more clarity? Those are all good big picture goals that can guide your conversation and move your relationship along. Let’s be honest, though. If your goal is to manipulate, shame, blame, hurt, or avenge yourself, perhaps it’s not a good idea to have this conversation at all.
Or maybe the goal is to end the relationship. If this is the case, find a way to say what you need to say that is honest, yet still gentle. Honesty does not have to be brutal.
Do This For You
Tough conversations can sometimes end badly if one person goes in with a preconceived notion of what the outcome should be. Let go of the desire to influence or change someone. When you go in thinking, “I am going to say this because it is my truth. I am doing this for me,” no matter how the other person responds, you will have achieved your primary goal.
If you’re going to say something that is hard to say and/or hard to hear, be succinct. It will make it easier for you to say what you need to say and easier for the other person to hear because it won’t get lost in a bunch of other ideas. You don’t have to verbalize every thought that comes into your head or heart. Stick to the important highlights. Brevity can keep you from being emotionally overwhelmed as well.
Here is a formula: I observe… I feel… I want…
Here is a not great example.
You’re not spending as much time here as you used to. Focus on your experience, not the other person. You’re going for connection, not trying to create defensiveness.
I feel like you don’t love me anymore, like I am about to get dumped. Remove interpretations (judgments) and stick with feelings.
I want us to be together. Stick to what you want for yourself. It allows the other person freedom to decide what is best for him. It’s a loving approach that removes the need for defensiveness and encourages honesty.
Here is a better example.
I’m noticing that I don’t see you as much as I used to. This is an observable statement of fact that is concrete and from your own point of view. Few people will argue with what is plainly observable.
I’m feeling like we are not as connected and that makes me scared. This focuses on your perceptions. It’s vulnerable which invites intimacy and honesty.
Does this relationship still make you happy? Although this is not a direct request for what you want, if what you want is reassurance that the relationship is still on track, this could be more effective than asking, “Do you still want me?” because it is less confrontational yet still answers the question.
Be Vulnerable Not Emotional
People appreciate honesty. Things can spiral out of control when there is a lot of drama thrown in though. Hysterics can throw things off track because the focus tends to go to either calming down the emotion, blaming the speaker for not maintaining control, or escalating the discussion so that both are now out of control. None of those reactions is productive for problem solving or communication. Vulnerability invites intimacy and makes you closer. High emotion creates barriers.
Accept the Other Person’s Response
Communication is a two way street. You speak your truth. The other person speaks his truth. When respect, understanding, and acceptance is displayed by both parties, you create a foundation of trust that will make the hardest conversations possible. If you attack, deflect, or defend, you create an environment where honest conversations are avoided. Consequently, you either don’t talk, information is not shared, or you may get outright lies. You have a greater chance of hearing the truth if you show that you can handle the truth.
When you put a premium on the truth and the relationship, saying what you need to say becomes a necessary part of growth. If you can see it in that light, saying what you need to say may become something that you desire instead of dread. You may come to appreciate truth from others as much as you will want to give it to others because you see it as an act of love and respect.