Effective communication lies at the heart of assertive behavior. Apart from your body language and tone of voice, the use of wrong words, or ‘poison phrases’ can alienate people for a lifetime.
One such word is using ‘You’ when communicating unless the intention is to alienate the other person.
Ever considered if you are inadvertently alienating people with the ‘You’ word?
How the You word wrecked agonizing havoc for a little girl
This is a real story about how ‘You’ created a lot of problems for a young girl.
Years ago, when my sister and I were at residential school, there was a student in my sister’s group – not because of any shared interests but simply because this set of students had joined school and grade at the same time and were yet to completely integrate with the class which had known each other since nursery.
The student who shall remain nameless managed to alienate the other members of the Group and damage control took place much later during Founder’s Day when her Mom came to the school and helped mend fences.
The girls called her a bully and rude. Her favorite phrases were full of ‘You’ and words like angry, irritate and annoy. Her conversations went along the lines of
Alka, you irritate me
Arti, you annoy me
Bhavna, you make me angry
And then walking away without giving the recipient of the message a chance to talk.
The first few times it happened with my sister, I told her to let it go. Maybe her friend was upset and not able to express herself. Then I told her to seek clarification, similar to Fogging the Critic or one of my favorite approaches to get specifics by Stun Gunning the Meanie.
The tactics didn’t work. Each time, her friend walking off in a huff.
Shortly after, I observed the girl was lonely and lost. She was labeled Aggressive and nobody wanted to talk to her or even sit with her at the dining table until the Founder’s Day event where parents are invited. Her Mom along with the other parents did the needful to facilitate the patch up.
When I look back, I realize she might have been overly assertive and her words did not quite communicate her message the way my pet friend Miss Coco, who’s an effective communicator extraordinaire does.
Had she moderated her words, this post might have had a different angle.
Assertive phrases are always better for effective communication
Assertiveness means being honest & calm and comes from a place of respect and trust.
It means communicating your viewpoint whether in words or deeds from a place of self-assurance, not fear of the other or the desire to dominate.
It means being mindful of what you are saying or doing and owning your communication.
We often don’t realize the effect that our words have on others or how it makes them feel. So in this case, when the girl was saying, for example, “Arti, you annoy me”, she made Arti feel confused and left wondering what she had done wrong.
Such phrases are also called “poison phrases” for the damage that they cause. A better way to get the same message across is to clarify the verb being used and the use of “I”. In other words, express how YOU are feeling. So to rephrase
When you pick your nose Arti, I feel annoyed
Leave room for dialogue, it helps in the long run.
Other assertive tips include being specific and not making sweeping generalizations. So be mindful of using words like always and never. Be honest and accurate; give examples of a specific behavior.
Honest and accurate descriptions also go a long way to maintain relationships. In the student’s case, her ex-friends judged her based on her behavior and labeled her aggressive.
Instead of having judged her, an honest and accurate description of her behavior which could have mended fences earlier would have been “she makes hurtful comments when we talk.”
Ever put your foot in your mouth and alienated friends with the word ‘You’? If the answer is yes, do try out the tips for size. Please do come back and share your experience.
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Written by: Vatsala Shukla
Photo Credit: Cat and Mouse by Vince Mig
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