Although you'll be surprised how often others respond constructively and helpfully after hearing your I-Messages, you should expect occasionally to hear resistance, defensiveness, guilt, denial, discomfort or hurt feelings. It's understandable that I-Messages sometimes provoke these responses. They confront others with the prospect of having to change some behavior. People are often surprised or shocked to hear how you feel, and certainly don't like to be told their behavior is unacceptable or that it caused you a problem, even if by chance you've sent a perfect I-Message.
So, when you hear these not-so-uncommon responses to your I-Messages, it is useless to keep hammering at the other with repeated assertive messages.
When you hear resistance or some other feeling-reaction to your I-Message, you'll need to make a quick shift and back off from a sending/assertive posture to a listening/understanding posture. Such a shift will communicate that you want to be sensitive to the feelings your self-disclosure brought out in the other. This shifting gears (think of it as shifting from a going-forward gear to a backing-up gear) lets others know you are not out to get your needs met at their expense. Although you're not ready to abandon your needs, you want to empathize and understand the nature of the problem your assertive I0Message caused the person to whom it was directed. This often leads to seeking a compromise solution.
Because Shifting Gears to listening acknowledges the others' feelings, they often decide on their own to modify their behavior. People find it easier to change if they feel the other person understands how hard it might be.
When you "shift gears" after confrontation in order to hear the concerns of the other person, several important goals will be achieved.
- You want to demonstrate concern for and acceptance of the person who is now experiencing a problem as a result of our I-Message confrontation.
- You want to understand the other person's communication and let that person know that you do understand by feeding back his/her message.
- You want to help the other ventilate, to release the negative feelings, to feel relieved.
- You want to help the other take primary responsibility for handling the needs and feelings that are the basis of his of her concerns.
Here are some of the various ways you can "shift gears":
- A simple acknowledgment of the other's reaction to your I-Message:
"You have some feelings about this."
"I understand how it happened."
"That's the way you see it, and I understand."
"Say more, so I'll understand."
- The simplest way to shift gears is just to stop sending and listen passively.
- The most effective way to shift gears is to use Active Listening, which is simply a restatement of the other person's response to your I-Message in your own words.*
Stay tuned for tomorrow post about Active Listening and how to do it!
*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's F.E.T. Adult Resource book