How many of us hate the thought of any whiff of confrontation?
It’s often a scary, unnerving prospect, as we cannot know in advance how we will be received, what will be unleashed or what the outcome might be.
Work, at home or with friends can sometimes have undercurrents or escalations of tension that may have simmered and remained unspoken about for some considerable time.
But keeping silent can bring its own complications and issues, as not speaking out may be interpreted as silently giving permission for things to continue as they are. ‘You should have said’, ‘why didn’t you say something?, maybe comments justifiably levelled at us if we eventually disclose that we’ve long been unhappy at the way things have gradually evolved.
There are several things that can contribute to our apprehension at breaking the silence and starting to talk. Apprehension might manifest about inadvertently saying the wrong thing and causing friction or even appearing foolish, unintelligent or ignorant. Could our words be misconstrued and add petrol to an already inflammatory situation, resulting in messy consequences?
Another concern may be about opening a ‘can of worms’. Once said, things cannot be unsaid and verbalising how something made us feel may prompt the other person to have much to say, resulting in a barrage of comments, examples and much stored-up resentment that’s been festering for a while. We may end up regretting that we said anything at all, though our desire to air our feelings and hurt was valid and justified.
Even so, stopping the silence, starting to talk does bring a situation to a head and means that issues are more likely to be dealt with and addressed. Of course, the other person has also got to be prepared to participate, but if they choose not to engage and instead stay silent and unforthcoming, that can frustrate any chance of resolving matters.
Some positive tips to stop the silence and start to talk.
- Get used to speaking up and hearing your own voice by practising having opinions on ‘safe’, more generalised, less emotive topics, like local news and events. Improve your confidence levels by suggesting interesting events to your group or by sharing informed views on what’s happening locally.
- Practise speaking in a variety of settings. Appreciate that many people also have concerns about how they’ll be received and what others will think of them when they tentatively voice their opinions. Joining in conversations will enable those relationships to benefit.
- In your personal relationships, start by conversing with each other, properly discussing what’s happening in each other’s lives rather than simply delivering domestic updates about the shopping list or children’s diaries. Maybe go for a walk while dinner is cooking or when the children are busy with an activity.
- Sooner rather than later is best. Avoid silence becoming the norm, a default habit, by aiming to regularly set aside time to talk, share and discuss any issues in your relationship. Even minor niggles benefit from being talked through, as it’s often the small items that eventually irritate the most.
- Listening is important. This means staying quiet long enough to let the other person process their thoughts and find what they want to say, no matter how inelegantly it’s phrased. Avoid the temptation to second-guess or finish each other’s sentences!
- If one person has a better vocabulary, is quicker-thinking or is perceived to be better at arguing or more intelligent it can feel intimidating to be in a ‘clearing the air’ discussion with them. Lacking the confidence to proceed or feeling wary can inhibit any useful attempts at conversation, particularly if there’s no attempt to converse on a more level basis. Be sensitive to any perceived inequalities.
- Beware of using too many examples. If your partner cites a particular problem, try to avoid responding with justifications and examples as a way of explaining yourself. Instead, practice empathy and learn more about how they’re feeling and why. Accusations, recriminations and retaliation merely rehash old wounds and rarely improve a situation.
- Don’t underestimate the positive role gentle, affectionate humour and self-deprecation can play at these times. Both can make valid, helpful points in a light yet significant way.
Investing in important relationships means making time for each other and demonstrating mutual respect, so that everyone feels able to speak, share the good and bad in their lives and enjoy a quality, supportive level of communication. In doing this you stop the silence and start to talk!
Susan Leigh, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. Author of 4 books, ‘Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact’, ‘101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday’, ‘Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain’ and ‘Your Divorce Handbook, It’s What You Do Next That Counts’ all on Amazon.
To order a copy or for more information, help and free articles visit www.lifestyletherapy.net