Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Do you observe or evaluate: Is your communication style getting you in trouble?

There will always be situations and circumstances in your life when someone will cross some personal boundary, triggering strong emotional responses.

When someone pushes your buttons, it’s tempting to want to push back. But deep down, you know this is not the best way to deal with things — it’s not productive, it wastes precious time and energy, and creates more turbulence in your life.

So the question: Is your communication style one of an observer, or an evaluator? The difference with these two styles is the difference between practicing effective communication (one that has a strong chance of leading to a healthy outcome), or ineffective communication (one that hinders any chance of a healthy outcome).

For instance, you may be walking into the kitchen wondering if you need to add anything to the grocery list and your partner notices your silence and asks, “Are you upset about something?” You reply, “ I’m not upset about anything, I’m just wondering if there’s anything else I need to add to the grocery list.”

Your partner responded to your silence with an evaluation, not an observation. Any time you attach meaning to an action, that is an evaluation (or interpretation). Here are some more examples. See if you can figure out which is the observation and which is the evaluation:

1. “I see that your work is more important to you than our family.”
2. “You have been working the weekends for the past few weeks.”

1. “You don’t seem to care about me anymore.”
2. “You don’t kiss and hug me like you used to.”

1. “I saw you flirting with that man at the party.”
2. “I saw you talking with that man at the party for more than an hour.”

Well… how did you do? In all three sets, the first statement is the evaluation (or interpretation). Was that obvious to you? How do you normally communicate?

Whenever you find yourself responding with an emotional reaction, stop for a moment and try to discern the difference between your interpretation of the event and the objective observation of the event.

Observations are empowering because they allow you to direct the flow of the conversation based on facts – not based on interpretation of the facts. It gives you a solid reason to ask the other person why something happened the way it did. When you conduct a dialogue based on facts, your communication will feel more “grounded.”

Even if the other person can't quite put their finger on what is different in you, they will feel the maturity in the way you carry the conversation. Try it out and see for yourself how this objective observation style of communicating can cause shifts in your life for the better.

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