When I was a teenager I was very... well... expressive. I brought no shortage of drama and to this day I remember hearing in response to my tone "you know Eileen, it's not what you say, it's how you say it." I can imagine that my parents were trying to help me to learn that my tone could be used in ways that push people away or bring people closer.
Even then, I understood that they weren't necessarily objecting to my position, but that I was not exactly creating an environment ripe for collaboration.
Now that I'm on the other side, there are times with my own children that that same phrase comes to mind. I'm OK with them saying no, but how they say no matters to me. There are times I hear myself echoing by my folks verbatim.
It's not what you say, its how you say it.
The words matter.
So does the tone.
Body language does too. (Cue eye roll.)
I want you to be heard
I want to want to hear you.
Help me help you.
I hope to teach my children that we can use tone and words and nonverbal communication to manipulate, to influence, to coerce... or we can use them to connect and find commonality and to reach understanding.
The choice is ours.
While there may not be a perfect formula, I lean on the work of Marshall Rosenberg and commit to being responsible for my own experience over believing that others are to blame for my feelings or my reaction.
To me, self responsibility is rooted in the understanding that another's actions are not the cause of my reactivity. I have needs that are met or unmet in that moment and I get to choose how I respond.
In gratitude or celebration, when I connect to my needs I can better understand (and express if I choose to) the needs I have that are being met.
In conflict, when I connect to my needs I can get a clear picture of what is missing, what I want and what would make my life better in that moment.
So, if I come home to clothes and shoes sprawled around the kitchen I can choose to say:
"Ugh. This place is a pigsty. I'm not your maid."
"I'm exhausted from my day and I really would love more order in the kitchen."
Both options can express frustration and exhaustion but the latter is grounded and self responsibility (I need order) while the former blames the other (you did this to me!) and places the responsibility for my experience on the other's behavior.
I've noticed others are not only more likely to listen when I am connected to my own needs, but they are more likely to understand, relate and want to figure out how to help.
I've noticed that when I believe someone else is responsible for my discomfort, I tend to up the ante on my tone, raising my voice (or silencing my voice entirely) because I'm not trusting that I'll be heard, fearing that I don't matter.
When I stand in my own unmet needs, fully responsible, I tend to speak more like myself - a person having a tough time, wanting connection, sharing what I need to be understood and hoping that we can find a solution together.
Wouldn't feel amazing to have others understand what you need and feel eager to help make your life a little better?
Focus equally on what you say and how you say it.
See what happens.
If you struggle with believing that your ability to respond depends on someone else's behavior – be it your kids, your coworker, your partner or your friend… check this out.
Want to find ways to unravel some habits that aren't working for you? Shoot me a note or let's talk about it.
Wishing you loads of connection this week...