How many times have you had a problem and when you finally address it in conversation you start explaining your concerns with phrases like  “I can’t”, “I don’t like”, “It bothers me”, “Why haven’t you”, or even “I quit”? When dealing with a stressful problem, we often communicate what is not working, and that can close the conversation down immediately. For example, if you tell a partner, “I don’t like that I cook every night,” a few things are happening. We are immediately in a negative place, and the statement that was just made can double as a criticism. So the person listening might become defensive (“I never said you had to do all the cooking”) or just not be sure what your goals are for this conversation. (Do you want to eat out more? Do you want someone else to cook?) This communication has not led to a productive conversation.

If you consider what you want from the conversation and not just what is wrong, you can communicate in a way that opens the conversation up to real discussion. For example, if a conversation about cooking responsibilities starts with, “I need you to cook some meals because I don’t like cooking every night,” you are communicating a reasonable request as the start to a conversation. Your partner knows what your goal is, and there is nothing in the language that presumes your partner has done something wrong and should be defensive. Starting with communication that shares what we need or want rather than what is wrong starts a discussion in a place where you are inviting the listener to ask why you want something different so they can understand, or ask you how this problem can be solved.

When something is bothering me, I always seem to know what I don’t want. However, if I take the time to consider what I do want from this person or situation, the conversation I start is easier, kinder, and more productive. Also, what I do want or need is almost always something I would much rather talk about than my anger or disappointment created by what is bothering me. Communicating what I want or need feels better as a start and usually resolves my negative feelings because I am finding a positive way to get what I want or need. I don’t always stop myself from starting with my disappointment, and don’t expect others to do so every time. However, being aware of this lesson makes it easier to make positive choices most of the time.

How are you communicating with the people in your life? Do you need help opening up conversations to get what you need? Let’s talk about it.