The #1 Life-Changing Communication Rule

Make this 3-word rule your mantra.

Posted Oct 22, 2017

Here’s a simple communication rule that can change your life.  Like most “simple” advice, it’s difficult to put into practice:


If you’re trying to get through to a difficult or defensive person, keep in mind that over-talking on your part will lead to under-listening from the other. This is true whether the issue you’re addressing is large (your best friend violated an important confidence) or small (your partner comes home late from work without texting you).

People take in very little information when they don’t want to hear what you’re saying. If you go on too long, you’re actually protecting the other person from taking in your anger or pain, because that person may shut down and vacate the emotional premises. He or she won’t have the space to sit with what you’ve said and to consider the valid point you may be making.  It doesn’t matter how old or young that other person happens to be.

When I was conducting informal research for my book, The Mother Dance, I asked children in family sessions to tell me one thing that their mother or father could do to make the family better. “Say it shorter, Mom!” was the most common response, or “You tell me I have to be more responsible, Dad, and then you go on and on for so long about it that I can’t even remember the first thing you said.”

 I can relate. I remember lecturing my younger son, Ben, during his senior year in high school about his failure to clean up his mess in the room where he watched television. I’d go on and on even though his eyes were rolling back in his head, his brain waves were flat and I clearly didn’t have his attention.

I confess to still finding it very difficult to follow my own advice on this one. Whether the person I want to get through to is eight or eighty, my automatic tendency is to say too much when I’m feeling angry or otherwise intense. My inclination is to over-talk things, especially when I’m aiming to convince the other person of “the truth ” of their misguided ways.

I’m working on it. If your intention is to get through a difficult or defensive person, you might want to work on it to.

Opt for brevity. Say it shorter. Make it your mantra.