Monday, July 6, 2009

Cranky Analysis: Communication

The APA site's 4th strategy to keep anger at bay concerns communication. This is far more resonant for me than the prior item in their list, problem solving. It reads ...

Better Communication

Angry people tend to jump to—and act on—conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you're in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don't say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.

Listen, too, to what is underlying the anger. For instance, you like a certain amount of freedom and personal space, and your "significant other" wants more connection and closeness. If he or she starts complaining about your activities, don't retaliate by painting your partner as a jailer, a warden, or an albatross around your neck.

It's natural to get defensive when you're criticized, but don't fight back. Instead, listen to what's underlying the words: the message that this person might feel neglected and unloved. It may take a lot of patient questioning on your part, and it may require some breathing space, but don't let your anger—or a partner's—let a discussion spin out of control. Keeping your cool can keep the situation from becoming a disastrous one.

I often overreact to requests or criticisms. Sunday morning was a good example. When I went into the bedroom to give Skip her first batch of pills for the day (It's the motherlode, more than 20 pills in one mouthful. I honestly have no idea how she takes that many in one gulp.), a request for a "honey do" item rolled right off her lips. Of course, she can't do this stuff herself, she was waiting a bit for me to come in with the pills and while lying there, was thinking she didn't want me to forget to water the plants. Amazingly, I had watered them immediately after she'd asked me to do it the day before, and she either hadn't noticed it had been done or forgotten.

This scenario happens with some frequency. I go in to give her pills, and she asks for something to be done. If you put yourself in Skip's shoes, it's easy how to see how this happens. She's awake, unable to move without my assistance. I am sometimes stretching out the morning time that I have to myself, so she's waiting for me to come in. She's thinking. Sometimes that thinking goes towards what she wants me to do. So, when I walk into the room to give her her pills or get her up for the day, she's got things she wants to tell me right away so she doesn't forget. Trust me, they are never thrilling to my ears!

Sunday morning, when the request for plant watering was the first thing mentioned, I could have reacted by claiming proudly that I'd watered them the day before, so there was one item already checked off the list; instead, I got cranky. I didn't think carefully about what I wanted to say nor listen carefully to what was being asked. I also heard the request as criticism, so got defensive, as the third paragraph in the APA web page alludes to. I have noticed a tendency on my part to react to criticisms defensively, and even to perceive requests as criticisms and so jump right to defensiveness.

This is a good item for me to handle on two fronts. First, I can ask Skip to think more about her delivery when she jumps right to a request when I come in to give her her pills in the a.m. If she eases into it, sort of butters me up, it will work better for me than a request delivered cold. Second, I can try to hear not just the surface but what's under the request so I can respond to it less crankily or defensively.


awb said...

I whine for things I want, the entire family enjoys that! I'll say, "Haha, I can't reach the remote control" or "get my brace, I'm going to fix a glass of soda" Yeah, they just love that!

Cranky said...

Andy - Yep, I bet they're thrilled! :-)