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Clear Needless Emotional Clutter From Your Relationships

These 5 small but provocative words invite unpleasant bickering and fighting

This post is in response to
When Is "Doing What Comes Naturally" a Bad Idea?

Getting a headache from difficult interactions?  In addition to a periodic decluttering of your desk, closets and countertops, it’s worth looking at what you might declutter from your work and home communication patterns. 

Ability to create solutions to problems collaboratively turns out to be one of the best predictors of success at work and at home.  Success almost always requires teamwork.  Clearing out the negative energy from your communications opens the windows of your relationships to brighter emotional sunshine and stimulates innovative ideas.

A good place to start this kind of decluttering is by paying attention to the following small words and phrases.  They may look tiny and innocent.  In fact, they each have significant ability to drag needless bad feelings into your life.  

1. BUT  The word but, at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence, deletes whatever came before.  It's like a subtraction sign.  

But that’s so…” or “I’d be glad to try but…”  or “Yes, but….”

"I agree with your point but....."

 Instead train yourself to use and or and at the same time.

2.  NOT The word not, including in contraction form, is a downer.  The more nots you use, the more negative you sound.  

"I'm not going with you."  versus, "I'm staying home today."

Instead of saying what you do not think, feel, or want, say what you do think feel or want.  

Instead of “I don’t want to..”, use “I would like to…”

Which would you prefer to hear?  

I don't want to have a green office any more." or "  I would like to paint them a pale yellow."  Complaints, which generally revolve around a not, turn listeners off and demoralize the speaker.  Preferences lead to positive action.

3.  YOU as the first word in a sentence.  Any and all comments to a co-worker or loved one saying what I think you think, feel, or could do will sound bossy and/or invasive. You-statements  as "crossovers" because they cross the boundary between self and other.  

You believe that I’m….”  Or “You just feel mad because …."  Or "You need to go tell them ..."

Invading someone else's territory by telling them what you think they feel, think or should do is provocative.  You-statements create negative energy and push people away.

Instead, use I-statements, that is, sentences that start with I.  "I think that... ", "I feel ...." or "I would like to .."  Sharing your own thoughts and feelings enhances feelings of closeness and intimacy between people.

In addition to starting with I, a similarly excellent sentence-starter for sharing insights in discussions about sensitive issues is "My concern is...."

After sharing your own thoughts, ask about the other person's.  Good questions begin with How or What.

"What's your view on that?"  "How do you feel about ...?"

In sum, talk about yourself and, instead of mind-reading, ask about the other.

4. SHOULD  Should takes away the option of choice.  It also makes options feel burdensome.  Change shoulds to coulds

I should have told him that.....  versus "I could have told him that ... "

“I should get up early tomorrow because I want to exercise.”  Versus “I could get up early tomorrow because I want to exercise….and at the same time (notice, no but) I think I would rather.....”

 5. MAKES ME FEEL  "Makes me feel" sentences create a sense of victimhood.  

"It makes me feel terrible when you...." versus, "I feel terrible when ...."

"You make me feel irritated when you...." versus "I feel irritated when you..."

Starting, by contrasat, with "I feel..." is empowering.  "I feel ...." also takes responsibility for your reactions instead of indulging in "you make me feel.." blaming.

Now comes the tough part.  What if someone else, like say your boss or an annoying co-worker, uses the bad habits described above?

The good news is that you are only responsible for decluttering your own communications.  The bad news is that sticking with your guidelines can be challenging when someone else is going out of bounds.  Still, pause before you respond.  Think about the decluttering rules.  Be sure to be respond in a decluttered way. 

Fortunately, if you respond by the rules suggested above, odds are high that your troublesome boss or colleague from hell will then pick up on your lead and start behaving better.

If not, you at least can pat yourself on the back for doing your part well.  Then continue on, feeling a bit of compassion for those who don't know how to declutter as you do.  The reality is that those with the skills you now are using do better in life....

Ready for action?

To practice decluttering your emotional world by removing needlessly provocative words, make a list of emotionally sensitive issues.  

Then try discussing these issues, one by one, sustaining awareness of using your freshly decluttered speech.  

Learning how to communicate in a relationship in ways that keep dialogue uncluttered, that is, flowing smoothly and collaboratively, enables folks to turn tough discussions into delightfully productive intimate talks.  Decluttering your language can be a key initial step toward decluttering your relationships of virtually all your distressing interactions and concerns.

Susan Heitler PhD is a clinicial psychologist in Denver who specializes in helping couples build strong loving relationships.  Her book The Power of Two and her interactive website teach the communication and conflict resolution skills for relationship success.