Sometimes, instead of refusing to communicate, the other person may be aggressive and give you a verbal blast. He or she may talk down to you or use a condescending or sarcastic tone of voice. Your first reaction will usually be to get defensive and blastright back , or to feel hurt and to blame yourself. In both cases , you are letting the other person call the shots. You’re putting him/her in charge. Either response will just make the unpleasantness escalate.

So what can you do?

Good listening and self-expression skills are nearly always the key to the resolution of any conflict. You need to listen and hear the truth in what the other person is saying, and to acknowledge how he or she is feeling. At the same time, you need to express your feelings about the way you are being treated . I call this method” changing the focus,” because you draw attention to the hostile way the feelings are being expressed.

Changing the focus is a listening skill : You acknowledge the other person’s anger and you describe the hostile way they are expressing it. Changing the focus is also a self-expression skill : you let them know that you feel upset about the way you’re being treated. This technique can soften a hostile exchange and bring about greater feelings of trust . For example, if someone puts you down you can say, ” I am feeling put down right now [ I feel statement] . Your tone of voice has a sharp edge [ changing the focus.]”

When you draw attention to the way you are being treated , don’t get hostile. Think in terms of sharing the way you feel instead of attacking the other person. You don’t want to say , ” You are putting me down . ” It makes you sound like a self-pitying victim, because you are blaming the other person. It will infuriate the other person. He or she can say , ” What a pity ! Little baby feels put down!”

You will also want to use the three listening skills to learn more about what the other person is feeling. If a family member calls you an idiot , you could say, ” It sounds like you are pretty annoyed with me [ feeling empathy]. I want you to tell me what I did that I turned you off [ inquiry] , I suspect you’ve got a good reason to feel ticked off [disarming].”


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