I GREW UP IN A POLITE FAMILY. Good manners.
Please and thank you and never be rude. Try to make people like
you. And don't make other people upset or feel uncomfortable.
This is all perfectly fine until I have something I want to say
that might bother someone. Then I've stuck with a choice between
being a nice, polite human being, or being rude. As you already
know, sometimes you have to speak up even if people aren't going
to like what you have to say. It's in your best interest, it's
often in the other person's best interest, and if it is
a person you love, it's in the best interest of your relationship.
And with people you don't love, it's often necessary to speak
up or else be a welcome-mat for the world.
So I have learned to speak up, and these
three principles really helped:
Say what you liked.
Say what you feel.
Say what you want.
Specific instructions are better than vague
instructions. "Speak up" is kind of vague, but these
three principles are nice and specific. Say what you feel and
say what you want. Those are not the only two things there are
to say, but they are the two most difficult to say and most likely
to be avoided. Piping up about an opinion is pretty easy. But
saying, "I feel annoyed," is much more difficult. And
saying what you want is difficult too, at least some of the time.
But all this needs to be balanced by acknowledging
what you liked. There's not enough acknowledgment going
around, and that's one of the reasons feelings and wants aren't
taken very well.
When you let the people in your life know
what you liked, you give yourself some slack that you can use
when you have something to say that's not so pleasant. It's like
putting money in the bank that you can later write a check against.
If you've put enough money in the bank, you can write the check
without creating a problem. But if you haven't put enough money
in there, and you write a check, it makes for trouble.
Say what you liked. Then you're not putting
a negative into an empty space, you're putting it into an at
least partially full space, and there is enough positive feeling
that you can be a little negative and still have some positive
Or to put it a little more concretely,
if you know I appreciate this and that about you, and then I
say I'm angry with you, you'll take it better than if I never
said a nice word to you and then I say I'm angry with you. That's
an extreme example, but can you see the difference?
And notice that it is say what you liked,
not say what you like. It's speaking about the past. Feel
free to say what you like, but realize that is the equivalent
of saying what you want, and is entirely different from an acknowledgment.
"I like your hair like that," can be construed as saying,
"I want you to wear your hair like that in the future."
And say what you liked that they did.
If you compliment people about how they look, you make them self-conscious
when you look at them. Plus, you're only really complimenting
them on their genetic inheritance. They didn't have much to do
about how they look. It isn't a personal achievement. It took
no good intent on their part. No effort was involved. There's
nothing to really be proud of. Vain maybe, but not proud.
If you say what you like about what someone
is, it puts pressure on them to meet your expectations.
"You are always so positive," you say to your employee.
Now if the employee has a bad day the next day, he's going to
have a difficult time being honest about it. He'll need to hide
it and pretend he is what you think he is since you appreciate
it so much. If manipulation is what you're trying to do, fine.
But if you want people to feel appreciated, say what you liked
about something they did.
There are several good side-effects to
speaking up about what you liked. First of all, people will like
you more. Second, those people will be more likely to do more
of what you liked because they know you appreciated it. And third,
and perhaps most importantly, it keeps your mind on the lookout
for what you liked.
A lot of times we just miss things. People
are all around doing things for you and sometimes you hardly
pay any attention. How do I know? Because it is human nature.
People don't have to do those things for you. Even if
they work for you, they don't have to do those things so cheerfully.
This method helps you pay attention to the good things in your
life, and that benefits you directly. It feels good to pay attention
to the good stuff. It just makes life more pleasant.
RATIO OF GOOD TO BAD
John Gottman, Ph.D., author of the Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can
Make Yours Last, is a innovative researcher. He interviewed
and studied more than 200 couples for 20 years now, videotaped
them while they had arguments, and hooked them up to blood-pressure
measuring devices heart-rate monitors while they argued. And
he's found some interesting and useful facts about relationships.
For example, when an argument gets a complaint out in the open,
that can be one of the best things a couple can do for
Another important thing Gottman discovered
is that people who fight intensely and people who argue
calmly and rationally and even people who avoid arguing
whenever they can they can all be successful in
marriage (that is, successfully avoid divorce, which is one very
measurable outcome Gottman uses as a marker of success). The
thing that really matters is how they argue or even if they argue.
What matters is the ratio of positive to negative words and actions.
If there are intense negative feelings and actions and words,
there must be enough positive feelings and actions and
words to counter it. There needs to be enough smiling, touching,
laughing, compliments, etc., to make up for it.
How much is enough? Believe it or not,
Gottman knows the answer to that with a lot of precision. One
of the advantages of his ingenious experiments is the precision
it allows. The ratio of positive to negative needs to be five
to one or better. As Gottman writes:
The magic ratio is 5 to 1. As long as
there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction
between husband and wife as there is negative, the marriage was
likely stable over time. In contrast, those couples who were
heading for divorce were doing far too little on the positive
side to compensate for the growing negativity between them.
Say what you liked. Often. Pick up on little
things and say them out loud. Not as a form of manipulation to
get them to do it again, but as a thank you, as an appreciation
for it, like you might appreciate good music or a beautiful painting.
Just express your pleasure: "That was nice." "I
liked that." "Remember yesterday when you were nice
to me when I was in a bad mood? Thank you for that. I know you
didn't have to do it, and it made a difference to me." Little
things. Don't save it up for big things. Give it away constantly.
Keep your eyes open and look for opportunities. They are there.
And they'll be there more obviously the more you look for them,
both because your attention is tuned to them and also because
people tend to do more of what gets appreciated and less of what
doesn't get noticed.
PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
Say what you liked
is about the past. Say what you feel is about right
now. And say what you want is about the future.
When someone you love does something you
liked, speak up about it. Let them know you liked it. They may
be able to see the smile on your face at the time, but later,
bring it up and make sure they are clear you liked what they
did. Give credit where credit is due.
I cannot stress this enough: Nonverbal
communication is highly overrated. Have you ever heard the statistics
about nonverbal communication? Supposedly, 70-80% of a message
is transmitted nonverbally, and what gets communicated nonverbally
is the most important part of the message. While this may be
true and while it may be useful in some contexts, it can also
be misleading because the things you say nonverbally are vulnerable
For example: Someone gives me an angry
look. What did I do that caused the angry look? I don't know.
Nonverbal communication is nonspecific and unclear. Was it anger
at what I said or did the person remember something that made
them angry? Was it really anger? Maybe it was frustration or
even indigestion. Words would make it clear.
Every time I've heard those nonverbal statistics,
it has been followed by something like this: So be careful that
you use the right tone of voice and the right gestures and the
right postures and the right facial expressions. In other words,
pretend you feel certain about what you're saying, even
when you're not. Act sympathetic, even when you're not,
because your words alone won't convince anyone. If you are saying
something and the content of your words are enthusiastic but
your nonverbal communication is boredom, the listener will hear
the boredom, not the enthusiasm.
This kind of information may be fine for
salespeople or managers at a training seminar (and it may not
be fine even there), but when you're talking to your spouse or
child, it's deceiving and it doesn't bring you any closer to
each other. It's a form of nonverbal lying, and lying doesn't
bring people closer. It creates distance. It separates.
I know a commitment to honesty is difficult,
and I don't know anyone who has completely mastered it. We live
in a world that accepts a certain amount of dishonesty or at
least keeping your mouth shut, and in public situations and at
work, it is probably appropriate. But when you feel bothered
about something with your fifteen year-old son, it only separates
you two to cover it up. And you can't get by with just showing
the bother on your face. That isn't clear enough. It leaves
a lot of room for misinterpretation. Words are the only way to
make it clear. Not only is nonverbal communication vague, but
often what we think we're showing on our face isn't as obvious
on the outside as it feels like on the inside.
In an experiment at Dartmouth College,
for example, students were videotaped while they watched funny
film clips. Then these videotapes of the viewers' faces were
shown to others who rated them on how much humor they expressed
on their faces, and the students who saw the funny films also
rated themselves on how much they thought they expressed their
humor. The two didn't match. And even after the funny-film watchers
looked at the videotapes of their own faces, they had to agree
with the judges: They didn't show as much humor as they thought
Not only are our faces not as expressive
as we think they are, but people aren't as good at reading faces
as we think they are. In an experiment at Western Virginia University,
students were given a test to determine their level of hostility.
Then they were shown slides depicting different emotions and
were asked to write down what emotion the slide depicted.
The experiment was specifically looking
at the distortion of hostility, but it shows a general trend
namely, we think we know what people are feeling, but
we are often wrong. In this case, the more hostile the person,
the more hostility they read into the pictures. Where a slide
may have depicted only disgust, the hostile student saw anger,
and slides depicting joy were seen as neutral.
Nothing can take their place. Say what you liked, say what you
feel, say what you want. Be specific. Don't make them guess,
because they might guess wrong.
This is one of the most important principles
in this section. Concentrate on this one. It will transform your
life. No kidding.
WHAT YOU FEEL
Say what you feel. Not how you feel
what you feel. I feel fine is not a feeling.
Feelings are not abstractions, and they aren't opinions. I
feel that you are a jerk is not a feeling. Anger is
a feeling. Fear is a feeling. Sadness. Gladness.
I feel relaxed. That's a feeling. My stomach hurts
is a feeling. My heart is pounding is a feeling. Feelings
are a direct naming of your present experience without any interpretation.
Feelings are direct and honest, and sometimes they're the hardest
thing to say. One of the things that makes them hard is what
I said already: You think it must be completely obvious to the
other person what you're feeling. It seems like it should
be obvious, but it often isn't, and it's nothing to take a chance
with. Say it. Say it in words. Not all the time, and not
when it's useless or inappropriate. But when something needs
to be said, or when it is important, or when it will make a difference
in the future, or when it'll make you more understandable to
someone you love, say it.
Be smart about this. It is probably irrelevant
to your boss that you are sad not that your boss is uncaring,
but it's simply not relevant to your relationship. Don't get
yourself fired just because you're speaking up! This method is
mainly for your close friends and family. It's for people you
want to have a close relationship with.
Say what you want. And keep in mind you
have no right to demand it unless you're a parent or a boss.
But being clear about what you want makes relationships work
much better. This is so important. We have a tendency to hide
what we want because we know the other will try to give us what
we want, and we want to give the other what they want, and so
the game continues and we end up down the road with neither getting
what they want and wondering what happened.
Say what you want and encourage your loved
ones to say what they want, and if you need to, work out
compromises that make you both happy. You can't do that unless
they know what you want.
Here is a fact: You'll get more of you
want when you say what you want. Without any increase in people
skills, without any finesse at asking, you'll increase the number
of times things go your way. Do you feel guilty about that? Fine.
Do you need to do something to relieve your guilt? Then do it.
Maybe people are helping you get what you want but you're not
helping them. That's not right. So help them. Ask them
what they want and help them. And let them help you get
what you want. That's love, baby, and it makes the world go round.
Don't pull back from it, let the good times roll! Say what you
liked, say what you feel, say what you want. Speak up.
You can improve your relationships with
others, and it will dramatically improve the quality of your
experience. You'll feel differently getting out of bed in the
morning. Relationships are important. Your relationships with
the people you love probably have a greater impact on your happiness
than any other one factor in your life.
There are two kinds of therapy that have
prove the most effective in experiments: Cognitive and Interpersonal.
You can probably understand why cognitive therapy would be so
effective at changing your life. It directly aims to change counterproductive
thinking patterns. Of course that would make a big difference
to a person's mental health.
But interpersonal therapy comes from the
point of view that it is the way we communicate to other people
that makes us disturbed. If we have lousy habits of interaction
with people, we'll get lousy responses from those people, and
it'll make us depressed or anxious or angry. It can make us mentally
So what they do in interpersonal therapy
is train people to interact with the people in their lives in
a healthier way, and it works. The trainees become saner
Relationships are vital. And even though
you may have had great insights before about yourself, it may
not have changed the way you've interacted with people. You may
have said to yourself, "I need to speak up more with my
spouse," but then find yourself right back in old habits.
It's hard to change. But what makes it difficult is not the new
behavior. Speaking up is not that hard. You talk all the time.
Thinking the insight isn't difficult either. What makes change
hard is keeping a new thought in mind long enough to remember
to do it often enough to form a new habit.
The repetition of the three principles
answers that need perfectly and directly.
Repeat the three principles to yourself
every day. Repeat them aloud to your children you'll be
laying the foundation for them to learn to do it too. And that
communication style will be good for their peace of mind and
security. It is a sane way to communicate, and produces a sane
environment to live in.
When you want to be honest:
Say what you liked.
Say what you feel.
Say what you want.
Focus only on this one principle until
you're very good at it. This will clean up so much of your life,
you'll be shocked and amazed!