I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty good communicator. I’m a good listener and usually fairly competent at getting my point across. However, after listening to an online talk by the late Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on communication, I realized that I may be a pretty good conversationalist, but I have much to learn about being a really good communicator.
According to Dr. Rosenberg, we all have needs to be met. Authentic communication requires understanding both our own human needs and those of the other person, and satisfying them without criticism or judgment or putting your own perception on them.
This idea of authentic communication became clearer to me one night when my daughter texted while I was reading a really good book. She is living away from home and we communicate a lot by text. I was enjoying my book, but happy to take a short break to see what she was up to. We texted back and forth for awhile, but sometimes she would take so long to respond that I would stop staring at the blank phone screen and start reading my book again.
I like to text the same way I speak on the telephone – say hello, chat for awhile, and end by saying goodbye. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was getting progressively more frustrated going back and forth between my book and our interrupted conversation. Finally, after several bouts of waiting and texting, she disappeared. No response to my last text.
About an hour later when she did finally text back, I asked where she was and why she stopped talking to me. She said she was getting food and reminded me that I always tell her to put her phone down while she is eating. She said there was no pleasing me – I get angry when she is on her phone and when she is not.
When I thought about it later, Dr. Rosenberg’s simple questions to help people understand their needs came back to me:
- What is alive in you? What are you feeling?
I realized that she was frustrated because she thought I didn’t like her stopping to get food. In reality, I was feeling frustrated because I thought we were in the middle of a conversation and I kept having to wait for a response.
- What would make life more wonderful? What do you need?
Not having an interrupted conversation, that’s what!. I need to know when our text conversations are over so I’m not waiting and getting frustrated.
- What requests do you have?
The next day I texted her to let her know that I really wasn’t angry and what I had figured out – my request: “I realized I would just like you tell me when you are leaving our conversation. Like when I say I’m going to bed now you know I won’t be texting again so you don’t wait. Does that make sense?”
This wasn’t about one of us being or doing something wrong. There was no blame, no judgment, no getting angry. It was about taking the time to figure out what we were both feeling, what I needed, and then clearly communicating that need. And because there was no blame or judgement, my daughter actually heard me, “Okay lol sounds good”.
That simple request has changed the way we text. She now understands what I need and we say “going now” or “talk later” when one of us is leaving the conversation. And yes, that small change has made life more wonderful!