When I work with clients who are feeling frustrated in their relationships, one of the first things I ask is:
"What do you want? In this particular situation with your partner, co-worker, friend, parent, or child, what is it you want?"
Here's an example: Let's say you're feeling frustrated and want to spend more time with your partner. Long work days, parenting obligations, and all the other commitments that go along with day to day life get in the way. Often times our relationship with our partner gets the short end of the stick.
So let's imagine you are starting to feel a little neglected and even lonely. If you haven't taken the time to identify what is at the root of those somewhat vague emotions, you may not even realize what you want or need is some quality time with your partner.
Without being clear yourself about what you really want or need, you may get grouchy about the fact the trash didn't get out, or the house is cluttered, or whatever...and instead of realizing what you want--why you are feeling that way--you may lash out just because you're feeling yucky.
Lashing out is not likely to inspire your partner to say "Hey, let's go take a walk or go to lunch together..." Instead your partner may pull back, furthering the cycle of loneliness and disconnect.
Feeling unhappy and unheard happens to all of us on occasion. Human beings are social creatures: we want our needs to be heard! We especially want those we are closest to in our lives to "hear" us...
But sometimes we don't know how to ask for what we need because we don't know ourselves.
We may often feel unheard, leaving us frustrated and hurt. It can bring up feelings of being unsafe and unloved.
It can make us feel like we are four years old again!
When our four-year old self is triggered, we don't generally have access to our best selves: the wiser self who is better equipped to navigate the prickly parts of living in relationship with others in a way we actually are able to get our needs met.
The point is this:
First we have to know ourselves. We have to know what we want or need.
We have to know for ourselves what we are trying to accomplish.
Engaging in a conversation with your partner, coworker, friend, parent, or your child can be challenging if you have a need but aren't able to communicate your need to others in a way they can hear and and understand.
They cannot respond to your need if they don't know what you need.
Engaging in a serious conversation with someone--without knowing what we want or need from them--is a little like taking off on a cross-country road trip without a destination in mind.
No destination means no map--which leads to frustration all around.
Even without a map, you'll get somewhere, but it probably is not where you "need" or "want" to go.
Being clear with ourselves about what we want or need allows us to begin with a goal in mind. If we know the destination, then we can chart a course to get there.
Other people cannot read our minds. We have to tell them what we need.
We can only do this if we know ourselves what we need.
So think about the last challenging interaction you had with someone. Were you clear in your own mind about what you needed or wanted from the interaction? Did you start with a goal in mind?
If not: are you able now, with the benefit of hindsight, to know what you wanted or needed from the interaction?
Think about a recurring issue: are you clear in your own mind what you need? Can you answer the question for yourself,
"What do I want?"
If so, great!
Knowing what you want or need is the first step in achieving good communication.
Too often we skip this first step. We don't know what we want or need, only that we want or need something. Instead we are left frustrated when we cannot get our needs met, leaving everyone involved unhappy.
So, before the next conversation...Do you know what you want?