Angry? Here are some tips to communicate effectively without damaging your relationships.
Communication is fundamental for forming positive relationships. However, communicating our feelings can sometimes be difficult, especially in an emotionally charged situation. Tricky situations can become overwhelming, causing you to lose clarity, tear up or even become angry enough to say things that you might regret later.
So, how do we effectively communicate how we feel when we’re stuck in a cloud of anger or sadness? Here are a few tips that might help:
1. Practice Mindfulness
Practising mindfulness not only helps you manage your emotions, but it is a key skill that can help you become more mentally fit.
We will inevitably face difficult times throughout our life. Scientist Dan W. Grupe and psychologist Jack B. Nitschke state that the human brain has been written as an ‘anticipation machine, and making future decisions is the most important thing it does.’ When faced with uncertainty, the brain has a lower capacity to effectively prepare for the future, which can contribute to anxiety. And, when in an anxious state, it can be more difficult to communicate how we feel. (Grupe & Nitschke, 2013).
Before you attempt to express to someone how they have made you feel, take a moment to practice mindfulness which will help calm your anxiety and bring you back to a less stressful state. This can help clear your mind and express your thoughts more rationally rather than emotionally. Research suggests that even a few minutes of focusing on your breathing and clearing your mind can help you gain more emotional regulation. (Seppälä et al., 2020)
Looking for some mindfulness tools? Check out the Appli Work Fit Platform for your workplace.
2. Be mindful of Timing
It is best not to bombard your friend when they’re in the midst of a busy workday or when they’re struggling with a family issue. Have you ever heard of adding fuel to the fire?
Find a time that is less likely to be stressful for you and the person you would like to speak with. This can be catching up for a coffee or calling them in their free time. Confronting someone when they’re mind is preoccupied will only make them feel ambushed, defensive and anger them. Finding the right time is an important part of effectively communicating without allowing the issue to become detrimental to the relationship. Remember, you’re angry with them but you still value the relationship that you have.
3. Organise Your Thoughts
You can’t express how you feel if you’re fueled with negative emotions and a cloudy mind. If you can’t think clearly, you can’t express it clearly.
Social psychologist Dr James W. Pennebaker suggests that the process of writing may enable us to learn to better regulate our emotions, organise our thoughts and break free of the endless mental cycling. (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011)
Journaling can help bring some rationality to the situation and provide some much-needed reflection after a difficult or hurtful incident. It can also allow you to re-read your thoughts and make adjustments without the risk of blurting out something that you can’t take back.
It can also be helpful to write it out and then come back to the journal in a day or two when you feel more level-headed.
4. Don’t bottle up your emotions
Imagine stuffing your clothes into a suitcase and packing it to the brim (we’re all been there). Now, you’re on your trip and made a few new purchases, so, you keep adding… eventually, your suitcase won’t be able to hold itself together and will burst. Your clothes are now everywhere.
Bottling your emotions will inevitably lead down the same path, and unlike your clothes, they’re a lot harder to pick up. So, what can you do instead?
Try to address small (and big) issues as they arise. For example, if your roommate or partner constantly leaves their laundry all over the place, don’t ignore their behaviour until you’re so emotionally triggered that you aggressively yell at them. The moment you notice this, in a friendly and non-critical way, communicate to them that you prefer a cleaner living space. You may even want to suggest a new laundry hamper for the dirty washing. You’ve now expressed your feelings calmly and clearly and provided an easy solution rather than ignoring this habit for months until you can no longer keep it in.
5. Listen Actively
“We have but two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak.” – Thomas Edison
Positive psychology research has shown that relationships are one of the most important factors that contribute to our wellbeing. If you would like to learn how to strengthen your existing relationships, science suggests that you may benefit by learning the skills of active listening. (Ohlin, MA, BBA, B. 2020)
Often, we will listen to a family member, partner or friend without really hearing what they are saying. Unfortunately, failing to truly listen to someone can harm our relationships. Poor listening can cause the people in our lives to feel disrespected, unheard and unvalued, the opposite of what we need to feel connected and cared for.
Active listening is a technique that anyone can learn to support relationships. With a bit of practice, we can learn to understand the speakers’ perspective better and help them feel understood. This technique can prevent miscommunication, de-escalate conflict, prevent arguments and help foster empathy.
A few critical steps to active listening include:
1. Face the speaker and maintain appropriate eye contact
2. Keep an open mind
3. Express empathy
4. Take turns speaking
5. Pay attention to what isn’t said
6. Summarise the message and ask them if you have heard them correctly
Would you like to learn more evidence-based tips to support your relationships? APPLI have put together a ‘Staying Connected’ toolkit which will provide you with additional strategies and practical tools that you can use to manage your relationships and wellbeing throughout life.
Ohlin, MA, BBA, B. (2020). Active Listening: The Art of Empathetic Conversation. Retrieved 15 February 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/active-listening/
Grupe, D., & Nitschke, J. (2013). Uncertainty and anticipation in anxiety: an integrated neurobiological and psychological perspective. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14(7), 488-501. DOI: 10.1038/nrn3524
Pachankis JE, et al. (2010) “Expressive Writing for Gay-Related Stress: Psychosocial Benefits and Mechanisms Underlying Improvement,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 98–110.
Chung, C., & Pennebaker, J. (2008). Variations in the spacing of expressive writing sessions. British Journal Of Health Psychology, 13(1), 15-21. doi: 10.1348/135910707×251171
Harvard Health Publishing, H. (2011). Expressive writing for mental health – Harvard Health. Retrieved 8 February 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/expressive-writing-for-mental-health
Headspace Organisation. (2018) 5 ways to effectively communicate your feelings. Retrieved 15 February 2021, from https://headspace.org.au/blog/5-ways-to-effectively-communicate-your-feelings/
Ramirez G, et al. “Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom,” Science (Jan. 14, 2011): Vol. 331, No. 6014, pp. 211–13.
Seppälä, E., Bradley, C., Moeller, J., Harouni, L., Nandamudi, D., & Brackett, M. (2020). Promoting Mental Health and Psychological Thriving in University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Three Well-Being Interventions. Frontiers In Psychiatry, 11. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00590