Communication Skills 101: Direct Communication
The other day a co-worker and I were talking at lunch. Pretty soon, she started talking about another person---in a critical way. I started to feel uncomfortable because I realized that she was venting some unexpressed feelings about this third party.
We have all had this experience both as listener and lecturer. Mary talks to you about Jenny. Joe talks to you about John. Your mother talks to you about one of your sisters. You talk to your sister about your brother. Your best friend talks to you about her husband. Sometimes you are trying to work something out in your own mind by sharing your feelings about a third person with a friend. You are bouncing your thoughts off of someone else so that you can understand something that is confusing. Often, it is an attempt to understand another person’s motivation for doing something that had an impact on us.
Other times, it is a way to vent frustration or even anger. Sarah is talking to her best friend about how annoyed she is with her husband. Why won’t he be more consistent about helping with the kids! Sarah is frustrated, angry, and hurt. She talks to her friend as a way of getting out her feelings. Afterwards, she feels better. And her friend expresses empathy and concern. She feels listened to, something she doesn’t feel with her husband.
Sometimes talk with friends and family is “gossip”. That is “idle talk about the private or personal affairs of others”. This kind of communication can be tinged with criticism or judgment—it is often not too friendly. “Did you see the awful color that Jamie painted her living room?” Do you believe that creep that Sally is dating?”
Workplaces abound with this kind of indirect communication! Joe is frustrated with a co-worker, Jim, and talks to John about his irritation. John “knows just how he feels”.
Somehow, when I reflect on all of these kinds of talk, I harken back to middle school! All of us remember those wonder years! Gossip, talking about each other, excluding one friend in order to cement a friendship with someone else, sharing secrets after making a solemn vow of silence, passing notes, and making nasty comments about others. Who can forget those experiences?
Most of us can recite a litany of misery from 7th and 8th grade! And yet, adult life can have its share of middle school stories too. Despite all of our recollections of unhappiness, we find ourselves stuck back doing the same thing as adults! My idea of hell is being stuck in 8th grade for eternity!
In family life, psychologists refer to this kind of third party talk as “triangulation”. It’s unhealthy. Mom talks to her son about how annoyed she is with her husband. Dad talks to his daughter about how angry he is at her brother. This puts someone else in the “middle” and if you have ever been there (I bet you have!), it’s uncomfortable.
So what are some things to consider?
Direct communication is best. If you are upset with your wife, talk to her first! If you are frustrated with co-worker, take him out to lunch and discuss your concerns. If you feel hurt by a friend, talk to her. Don’t just vent to another. Go directly to the source. If you make this a habit, you will find that your talk with others changes in a more positive direction. And you may find that you are more likely to get what you want.
Don’t gossip. My mother used to say to my brothers and I—“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. We used to snicker when she said that. But, there is some poetry there too. Negative and critical talk about another creates a negative impression in our minds and hearts. And of course, our friend may then gossip about us too! Thank goodness we have all graduated from middle school!
Don’t get in the middle. Don’t put others in the middle. This is where being direct is helpful. Don’t get in-between two people having a conflict and don’t put anyone else in that position. In the end, you will be much happier.