Home Article and Opinion How you speak to someone is more important than what you say

How you speak to someone is more important than what you say

If you want to be heard, it isn’t what you say but how you say it that matters. These three steps will make sure your message lands

Do you say whatever is on your mind without giving it much thought? Do you express the emotions you’re feeling, including anger and frustration, in whatever way those feelings arise in that moment?

It makes sense. You want to communicate something you are thinking or feeling to another person or group of people. So why couch it? Why not just say it like it is? In theory, we should be able to express ourselves in any way that feels good to us and gets our point across. But have you noticed that when you do let loose and say whatever you want, however you want — whether it’s hurtful or filled with anger and frustration — you don’t get the result you want? More than likely, the conversation ends in an argument because the other person responds with the same level of intensity and emotion that you’ve expressed.

Don’t let your emotions hijack your message. People respond to how we make them feel. When you start an intense conversation full of emotion, the recipient is not listening to the message. Instead, they have an emotional reaction to the intense feelings you are projecting. The subject you are trying to address becomes less important to the other person than dealing with and responding to your intensity or emotional state.

Sometimes, they might be caught off-guard by the intensity of your emotions but are quickly able to refocus and start listening. But more likely, they will have a strong reaction to how you spoke to them. I like to say they become “married to that feeling,” because it will be their primary takeaway from the conversation. The other person’s initial reaction is always based on how you come across to them and has nothing to do with the message you are trying to convey. For example, if you raise your voice, they might get angry or feel turned off, scared, uncomfortable, stupid, unappreciated, or frustrated. Everyone reacts differently, but when you don’t speak to someone in a way that feels respectful, they will react based on their interpretation of your emotional state and how they feel in response.

To communicate strong negative emotions when you need to have a conversation, follow these three steps.

  1. Recognize the impact your emotions will have on the conversation.

Think about what will happen if you speak to someone with the full force of your emotions. Will they absorb your message, or will the impact of how you bring it up overwhelm or anger them?

  1. Plan how you will approach the conversation and state your intentions up front.

Acknowledge what you are feeling, and then begin the conversation by stating your intentions: “This subject is important to me. I’m upset and I want to tell you what’s on my mind first, before you respond. Then, I’d be happy to listen to what you have to say.” Or, “I’m not seeking to argue, but we need to discuss this topic and come to a final decision about how to proceed.” Now, you have set the stage to get your point across, and they know you want to have a productive conversation.

  1. Explain how you feel, why you feel that way, and then turn to a solution.

Name your feelings, explain what evoked those feelings by recounting the facts, and then focus on moving forward. For example: “I am angry [name the feelings = how you feel] because we lost the Smith account [what = facts about the specific situation]. When you didn’t show up to the pitch on time [fact], it caused us to lose credibility with the client [fact]. Going forward, when you are the lead on a project, you need to review your pitch with another team member who will assume the lead if you are late [discuss your action plan or ask them to create a solution, a plan to resolve the matter].”

You always have the right to be angry and to express your feelings. However, if you approach someone with anger, you will likely be met with anger. Consider telling them that you are angry, frustrated, or upset, and keep the conversation respectful and oriented toward finding a solution instead of placing blame. Because if you want the other person to actually hear you, you must consider how you come across to them. Start the interaction with a desire to be heard rather than expressing the full depth of your emotions — then the other person will be more likely to hear you, absorb your message, and take the appropriate next steps with you.


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