I like to see myself as someone who reads situations well (like most people), yet it turns out I kind of suck at it (like most people). When I listen to others tell me about a fight they had I’m very good at guessing why the other person did what they did and what happened next. Considering I’ve been listening to people’s stories of conflict every day for many years, I should be pretty good. When it comes to my own life, however, I’m still pretty terrible – stupid emotions; they really can blind us. I was reminded of this fact the other month. After a particularly difficult day during a difficult month I tried to be honest with my wife in hopes that it would lead to change… and it led to confusion. I told her how it felt like I was in a phase where no matter how hard I tried nothing was good enough for her since that month it seemed she had an endless stream of criticisms for me. After sharing this (I was looking at the ground like a “winner”), I looked up to see her face and she was staring at me. She wasn’t angry or hurt; she was… confused, and not just because I’m a guy who just shared his feelings – she’s used to that; she knows who she married. She was confused, however, because she didn’t know why I thought she had been critical. Even when I gave her specific examples that I thought were brilliantly obvious, she was confused. That means she is either great at pretending she’s not critical or I was seeing something that wasn’t there. This was such a strange moment for me because I had to wonder: “Could I have misread these situations? Am I not the genius at reading people that I want to think I am? Am I… normal?” That was weird thought.
Here’s the problem: My wife was asking me to do things or change how I did them because she was trying to have clear communication while I was interpreting them as criticisms. I was taking something she wanted and twisted it to be personal… or she wasn’t presenting herself as well as she thought. Who knows? That’s the problem of communication: it’s all about the interpretation. My guess is she was tired, and not presenting herself as well as she wanted on top of having an unusual amount of requests largely because, again, she was tired. Of course, that’s just my interpretation and I could be missing something.
After a few minutes of discussing my wife’s confusion, she offered a great suggestion: “Why don’t you write out a script for what I should say, so I don’t sound critical, and I’ll follow it.” She then added she wasn’t being sarcastic (a smart move considering the situation), but I already knew that because that’s how I read the situation (yea me; I got that one right). That being said, I appreciated her making sure I knew her intentions because I could see she really cared and was serious about this. In that moment I wasn’t able to come up with very much (I’m terrible on the spot), but I promised to have a list of options for her by the weekend. It’s always good to give timelines to make sure we follow through with what we offer.
The following is the list I came up with that I can now use as a teaching tool for others – the best part of my life experiences: Being able to share what I learn. Some people might be reading this and thinking that I must be controlling, but the truth is I’m more interested in how I can use language to prevent miscommunications and misinterpretations. It helps me learn how I can be better, which is important because I know I’m not perfect (yet… but one day). Reflecting on this difficult experience I’m very grateful for it because it led to a new idea for me to address in order to reduce unnecessary hurt in my life and in others. You’ll notice that there are a quite a number of different options. Some are better than others, and each one will need to be used carefully based on the situation and person you’re talking with, but it’s nice to have options to prevent using the same line too often. Even the best line used too much will become a trigger to a fight.
- You know what would be helpful?
- Do you have any suggestions for how we can change (blank)?
- Can I make a suggestion? (Or: Can I give a tip?)
- You know what I’d really like in a situation like this?
- Can I make a request? (Or: Can I ask a favor?)
- What do you think about….?
- I know I’m weird, but do you think you can (blank)?
- When you do (blank), I assume you’re trying to be helpful, but you know what would be even more helpful?
- I had an idea; can I pass it by you?
- Instead of (blank), can you please switch to (blank)?
- You know how you’re the greatest partner in the world? Can you start to (blank)?
- You know how I always find a new challenge for you? Can you (blank)?
- You know how you love when I ask you to do something so much you roll your eyes? Can you (blank)?
- You know how I love to be a pain? Can you (blank)?
- You know how I love to nag? I’m very excited because I have this new topic to nag you about.
- Is there something we can do to help you remember to (blank)?
- I know I’m guilty of (blank), but do you think you can (blank)?
- Do you hate (blank) as much as I do?
- You probably already know this, but I’m sharing it because it makes me feel better.
- As a reminder, can you please (blank)?
I hope these options can be helpful for improving your ability to ask for changes.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people