How to Say the Right Thing … the Wrong Way
Does it ever seem like your wife did not try to hear your words with your intent? Sometimes the dialogue between you and your spouse probably feels like two ships passing in the night, without able to detect the other’s presence. Often you may be saying the right thing, but the message is not received due to invisible barriers. My goal is to help you be a more effective communicator by learning from my mistakes. This article provides a few tips that you can apply in broader conversational moments.
I was a school counselor for a few years and I learned a valuable lesson from a 2nd grader one day. He gave me a card as a nicety since I had been teaching lessons in his class each week throughout the year. He wrote to let me know how much he appreciated me as the school counselor. This card was full of typical spelling errors, but it had a great message on the front that was priming me for the real praise that was inside.
(“Thank you for teaching us lots of things. We all think it is fun. -From Michael”)
As I flipped open the card, my eyes were drawn to the big red heart. This kid definitely knows what a difference I am making in his life. But before I get too excited, I read his anti-climactic phrase that simply stated:
That’s right, “[I am] not a bad teacher.”
Now in this kid’s mind, he was letting me know that I am a good teacher when I come to his classroom each week because I am not … bad. I laughed at his choice words and immediately thought of how he could have better phrased that compliment.
Then I immediately had another thought:
How many times do I rigidly wrap my compliments up in simpleton-form when trying to say a positive thing to my wife, friends, and others?
I Say The Right Words – Just In A Wrong Fashion
I’m sure I have let my wife know how much I appreciate her by either simply complying or not verbally complaining (FYI – these are not good tactics). In fact, one verbal exchange went like this:
Me: “I did not say that outfit looks bad on you!”
Wife: “But you didn’t say it looks good on me either.”
Me: “I was trying to analyze your question about whether or not the jacket looks good with the pants.”
Wife: “Your two-second pause is a deafening silence to me.”
Ouch. My wife did not care about the jacket – she wanted to be assured of the fact that I still find her attractive no matter what she wears.
Going The Extra Mile
Another deficit of mine is when I don’t go the “extra mile” to say the right words (thoughtfully). Often my non-verbals can also say more than my words. (Like the student’s card given to me.)
Bad: “Oh, you changed out of your yoga pants today. Are we going somewhere?”
Good: “Oh, you look nice in that outfit.”
(Realizing your work shirt is still in dirty clothes…)
Bad: “Hey, I thought you were going to do laundry this week?”
Good: “Even though I didn’t get my laundry done, I sure appreciate you doing that for us regularly.”
Bad: “The yard still isn’t picked up and we have company coming over tonight.”
Good: “I sure appreciate you doing other work around here to help out. Can I help you with any of the yard work before our friends come over?”
…not have any dull facial expressions during communication either. Not only can some words really hinder the intended meaning, but some non-verbals can make a difference too. I am learning that my thoughts are only valuable when I can verbalize those to my wife in an appealing manner. Even better is when I can verbally (and with a kind expression) convey such positive attributes to my wife, with positive emphasis on who she is, not what she is not. (eg. “You are a great conversationalist.” – not – “You are not a bad listener.”)
Be the one that willingly talks in a way that conveys love to your spouse – more so than the convenience of your speech. Try one of these statements with your spouse today:
- I think you are great at ….
- You make me smile when you …
- When you (do/say) … I feel …
So, don’t get caught with just good intentions about your message. You need to ensure that the right thing is not said the wrong way. When you achieve good conversational skills, you and your spouse create a healthier relationship.
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