If you are a golfer, that “hole-in-one” might be elusive; yet you continually seek ways to hone your skills and improve your game. In relationships with our partners, children and others we also want to feel skilled, happy and at our best.
The following tips are about achieving better relationships. Hopefully as your relationships improve and thrive, your golf game will become easier too!
Destructive communication erodes self-esteem and harms relationships. Such communication may be destructive, but, sadly, many people fall into the trap of indulging in them. By following some of these rules, you will feel better about each other and your relationship.
- Use I-messages instead of You-messages. You-messages sound blaming, accusing. With an I-message, you can convey the same message without sounding blaming. For example:
You-message: “You left divots in the green again.”
I-message: “When you don’t repair the divots you made, I feel like you don’t care about the rest of our group.”
- Communicate the entire message. According to McKay et al. in their book Couple Skills (see Suggested Reading), complete messages include four components:
Observations: neutral statements of fact
Thoughts: your own opinions and beliefs
Feelings: descriptions of your emotions
Needs: a statement of what you need or want from the other person
Here is an example of a complete message: “The weekend is coming up. Maybe we can go play a round of golf together? I would like to spend some time with you.”
An incomplete message leaves out one of these components: “Maybe we can go play a round of golf this weekend?” There isn’t anything wrong with this statement, but the first one is more complete and will likely result in a better outcome.
- Don’t use your feelings as weapons.Describe what you are feeling as objectively as possible, not aggressively.
Be specific; keep your voice under control. For example:
Objective: “I felt hurt when you said that I wasn’t good enough to enter the club’s golf tournament.”
Aggressive: (yelling) “You’re an idiot! How dare you insult me like that!”
- Use specific language. When you have a complaint, be specific. For example, “I’m upset
that you never watch me putt” is clearer than saying, “Thanks for not caring about me.” The first statement is less
likely to produce defensiveness, leaving little room for misunderstanding.
- Focus on the problem, not the person.Consider the differences in these statements:
“You’re an inconsiderate person!”
“I wish you would be quiet when I’m getting ready to tee off.”
Attacking someone’s character—rather than the behavior—is different from expressing a complaint. A complaint focuses on a specific action. Criticism is more blaming: “You always screw the budget up. Can’t you do anything right?”
Behavior like this is damaging because:
- Criticism is destructive rather than constructive.
- It involves blame.
- Criticisms tend to be generalizations (you always, you never, etc.).
- Criticisms attack the other person personally.
- Stop bringing up ancient history. It’s more constructive to focus on the issue at hand. If you still have feelings about past issues, resolve them and move on. Do not use them as weapons every time you have a disagreement with your partner.
- Watch out for mixed messages. Avoid the temptation to mix compliments and complaints. For example, let’s say that you meet your friend at a cocktail party. You think she looks nice, but her dress seems quite provocative.
Straight message: “You look very nice tonight.”
Mixed message: “You look so pretty. I would never have the nerve to wear that.”
- Pay attention to your body language. Your words are only part of the message. If you say: “That was a pretty good putt” while rolling your eyes, your message becomes unclear. Be sure that your body is in harmony with your message. Watch out for these:
- Crossing your legs and arms
- Tapping your foot
- Clenching your teeth
- Rolling your eyes
- Pay attention to your emotions. If you are calm, you are less likely to say things you’ll later regret. You will be less likely to become defensive and shut your partner out. Examples of ways to calm yourself and your emotions include:
- Pay attention to your physical responses. Is your heart racing? Are you breathing faster? If you are, take a time-out.
- Leave the room. Do something relaxing. Listen to music or do relaxation exercises.
- Make a conscious effort to calm yourself down.
- Resolve negative feelings. If you have bad feelings about your partner, take steps to resolve them. When you engage in behavior (verbal or nonverbal) that conveys a lack of respect, your relationship is in serious danger. This includes abuse, insults, making faces, and name-calling. Relationships plagued by negativity will have a difficult time surviving.
- Don’t be defensive. People usually act defensively in conflict situations. Defensiveness escalates conflict, doing nothing to resolve it. Examples of defensive behavior:
- Denying responsibility (I did not!)
- Making excuses (I couldn’t help it; traffic was awful)
- Ignoring what your partner says and throwing a complaint back (Yeah, well, what about the mess you left yesterday?)
- Saying Yes, but...
- Don’t shut down. In his 1994 publication1, author John Gottman describes the dangers of stonewalling behavior: refusing to communicate, storming out of the room, or withdrawing. When a person is stonewalling, communication is impossible
As a golfer, you value the game and think carefully about your actions on the course. By incorporating that attitude with these tips, you can improve your communication skills. It may take a little extra thought before speaking, a little extra time to correct past behavior, but remember…practice makes perfect!
McKay, Matthew, Fanning, Patrick, and Paleg, Kim, Couple Skills: Making Your Relationship Work. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1994.