One of the hardest parts of communicating is speaking for the listener, not yourself. I had a big fat reminder and practice-what-you-preach moment yesterday.
Communicating is hard. Parenting is hard. Put these two things together, mix in a little get-things-done-mom stress with strong-willed-kid tiredness, and you have a communication minefield.
Unfortunately, yesterday, I landed smack dab on a land mine. I’d love to say this is a rare and unique situation. Well, truth be told, it’s been a daily occurrence. The difference, last night, was that I stopped, reflected and opened myself up to the fact that if I want to stop this nightly ordeal, I will have to be the one to change.
The scenario is this. It’s the evening, and there is running around to various practices, dinner, homework, showers, etc. We all know the scene, and just to be clear, it is not the set of a 1950s sitcom.
This time we were ahead of the game! My 9-year-old daughter, Cai, decided to get her nightly reading done in the car. Yes! One thing off the list! She finishes reading, and she hands me her reading folder to sign. It’s not just a folder. It’s a folder inside another folder with the outer folder eating pens more furiously than a dryer eats socks.
Did I mention I’m driving? I tell her to hand me the inner folder and a pen when I’m at a stoplight.
Cai: ‘Why are you always yelling at me?!’
Me: ‘I am not yelling at you.’
The gory details of what happens next are just too embarrassing to rehash. Just use your imagination.
I’m a direct communicator. I really don’t mean to be harsh and ‘bossy’. For goodness sake, I love my kids more than life itself. Its just there is a lot of sh*t that needs to get done at night, and do I really have time to pause, breathe, and ask nicely, ‘Would you please take the folder out, find a pen, and hand it to me so I can sign it for you my darling daughter?’ I’m not a 1950s mom, and I haven’t worn pearls since the ‘80’s when we wore them with sweatshirts.
So, maybe I don’t need to be June Cleaver, but I do need to adjust my communication style if I want to communicate better with my daughter.
Later last night after we both calmed down, Cai napped, and I took a moment to relax on the sofa with the dog, I talked to Cai.
Me: ‘I’m sorry about what happened. I really don’t think I was yelling. I was speaking normally and just asked to have the folder. Would you help me figure out how to ask the same thing so you don’t feel like I’m yelling at you?’
Cai: ‘You said, ‘Cai, take out the folder…’ You didn’t call me CaiCai and when you are going to yell at me you always start with Cai, … You always sound nicer when you say CaiCai’
Speak for the listener, not for myself.
Lesson learned. Solution simple.
Slowing down, remembering and doing are my challenge. I’m up for it.
Although the above scene is on the ‘life’ side of the work/life equation, variations play out in office hallways, across cubicles, and boardrooms everyday. Identify someone with whom you want to improve your communication. Set up a time to ask him or her the question I asked Cai committing to acting on one item that he/she brings to your attention. Prepare yourself beforehand by taking some time out to center your thoughts and be open to what the person might have to say. Listen to hear, not to respond, and then take action.