Communication in Relationships

Sometimes it is difficult to be direct about how we feel or what we want, particularly when we are concerned about hurting the other person's feelings or about how they may respond to us. As a result, we may choose more indirect ways of communication such as ignoring the person, communicating through a third party, or not being honest about how we feel. However, indirect communication will more likely lead to the reactions we most fear.

Two types of direct communication that are particularly problematic involve being assertive (rather than being passive or aggressive) and confronting someone about a problem.

Tips on Assertiveness

  • Acknowledge the importance of the request. For example, if someone were soliciting a donation, indicate that you recognize the importance of their organization.
  • Politely but directly decline. In doing so, it is better not to make up excuses or use passive verbs such as "I can't."
  • Avoid apologizing. This is often the hard part, particularly for women, because in turning down the request, we risk offending the other person or making them think negatively of us. But keep in mind that they are asking a favor from you.
  • Be a broken record. Sometimes saying no once isn't enough. In fact, solicitors will often begin with a big request and then follow up with several smaller ones if you decline. Expect to have to say no 3 times before you will be heard.

Tips on Confrontation

  • Begin with positive feedback. Begin by saying something positive about your relationship with them before discussing the problem.
  • Avoid generalizations. Be specific about complaint and avoid using statements that include words like always or never.
  • Make it about you. Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements and emphasize your feelings rather than passing judgment on the other person. EX: "I felt hurt by your comment" vs. "You're so insensitive!"
  • Be willing to compromise. Offer solutions that involve give and take on both sides.
  • Be prepared for defensiveness. Don't take their reaction personally. Remind yourself and the other person that it is the situation that is the problem rather than the person. 
  • Ask for help. Take advantage of a mediator/mediation services or some other third party if you can't get your message across directly.