Raise your hand if you enjoy confrontation. For the most part, people avoid confrontation like the plague. But in order to have an honest relationship, you’re going to have to express your needs. Most people would rather have a root canal. It doesn’t have to feel so painful, scary or risky to express yourself when feelings have been hurt. When a need has been stepped on, it’s crucial to be able to talk about it. But it’s something that most people either avoid or do in a way that’s ineffective and often harmful to the relationship.
Compassionate communication is a skill I’ve been studying and teaching for almost ten years. Well, actually, it’s something I’ve worked on my entire adult life. But in the past ten years, I’ve learned how to courageously express my needs while staying open and connected. Following are 8 tips to help you learn to express your needs without feeling needy.
8 Ways to Courageously Express and Negotiate Your Needs (without feeling needy or whiny)
1. Understand that your needs and your partner’s needs are equally valid and important. Needs are at the core of who you are and what drives you. If a need is pushed under the rug, it will resurface. It might come back as a passive-aggressive remark, or something more in-your-face, such as withholding sex or raging at your partner. So, begin with the belief that both of your needs are equally important.
2. Remember how courageous you’ve already been in other areas of your life. Did you stand up at work in defense of something near and dear to your heart? Were you successful? Remember that success. Tapping into this courage will support you in your toughest conversations.
3. Believe that a mutual solution that meets each individual’s needs is possible. You don’t have to both agree on an issue in order to work things out. You just want your partner to understand that your feelings were hurt when a need wasn’t met. People learn how to treat you based on how you advocate for your needs. Mind reading doesn’t work. The more you can stand for the things that are important to you, the bigger the chance that your needs will be validated and honored.
4. Drop your assumptions and judgments about the other person and the situation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a made-up assumption about why someone’s love interest didn’t call or email or whatever! Stop making things up. Check things out. Ask questions.
5. Don’t blame. Blame leads to defensiveness or shame. Again, check things out by asking questions. Keep an open mind.
6. Preparation helps you gain confidence. Get clear on what you need and figure out how you’ll express it. The more clarity you have, the better. I like to bookend my conversations with a good friend. I write out a rough draft of a tough conversation. I reread it several times to make sure I’m not bringing judgments and assumptions to the conversation. And then I call a friend to run it by her. When the conversation is complete, I check in with my friend again. Having that accountability and an objective observer helps me to stay true to my intention to stay connected in the tough conversation.
7. Listen! Seek to truly understand what your partner needs. When you’re done saying your piece, it’s important to stay open to hearing what he/she has to say. This is a dialogue, not a monologue. Try to stay open and not defensive when you hear the response. If you want understanding from your partner, you must give him the same respect and listen carefully to his words.
8. Breathe! This may seem obvious, but breathing helps you stay centered. Do what you must to stay in your power when you’re talking.
In order to have authentic and dynamic relationships, you need to have these kinds of difficult conversations. And the best part? It gets easier with practice.
So practice, practice, practice…on everyone and anyone. You’ll soon become a pro who can express your needs without feeling needy.
Please share a tough conversation that you’ve successfully had, or a situation you’re dealing with now where you might need some help expressing your needs.
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