Sometimes (read: very regularly) I launch into a story without A) naming what I need from the process and B) sharing these needs with my conversation partner.
I tend towards external processing, so at any given moment, I have a dozen ideas I’m ready to put into words. If I feel safe and comfortable with you, you might not realize that I’m an introvert because I can be quite resourceful when it comes to finding an outlet. With my spouse, I’m especially guilty of trying to have conversations while brushing my teeth, as he is walking out the door, on a text message thread, and so on.
The Communication Tool that is Changing My Life
Over the past few years, I’ve become aware that each time I share, I may be seeking to fulfill a different need or motivation. Sometimes I just need to hear myself say something I’ve been thinking. Other times I want to get the perspective of another person. Still other times I just want to connect. And so on.
I’ve learned that when I take the time to identify what I need and share it with a loved one, our presence and connection are enhanced. Not only am I more clear about my needs, I am also able to be clear and direct with my conversation partner, which can help them understand how to help me. Furthermore, when I take this pause, I am also checking in with the other person’s capacity and boundaries. While it is their responsibility to maintain their own boundaries if or when they don’t have the time or energy to hear me, this pause gives us the opportunity to check in with one another in an organic way.
Naming my need also decreases the number of times I blurt out a grocery list or ask for an opinion at some of the less-opportune times I mentioned above. The simple act of slowing down and checking it with myself helps me proceed in more mindful ways. (Thanks to lots of therapy and coaching for helping me develop my communication tools!)
How to Name and Share Your Need
When you have a story that you just have to tell, when there’s something you need to get off your chest, I invite you to pause. Consider: “What do I need right now?” or “What do I hope to get from this process?” First, sit with this for a few moments. Acknowledge yourself and your needs. You are valid, and your needs are valid. You deserve to take up space.
Once you have identified your need (or needs), share this with your conversation partner. I suggest using an “I statement,” as this helps you take ownership of your need, as well as helping your conversation partner remain open. Keep your statement concise and simple. Then, pause after sharing your need. This allows you to slow down again, and it offers your your loved one time to be part of the process; you will be talking with this person, not to them.
These are a few needs I tend to use most often:
- “I just need to vent.”⠀
- “I’d love some feedback on this situation.”⠀
- “I’m looking for help with problem-solving.”⠀
- “I just need to say this out loud.”⠀
- “I’m curious about your perspective.”⠀
- “I would like to be seen/witnessed.”
This tool is useful for communicating with a wide range of people including parents, children and teens, partners, and friends.
If practicing this tool aloud feels scary or difficult at first, you can it in writing first. You might practice in your own journal or even explore how to feels to type these words in a text or chat with a loved one.
Communication in the Real World
This process is not a requirement for EVERY conversation. However, because we all tend to have different processing styles, this is a tool that can support you and your loved ones, especially if communication is feeling a bit off, scattered, or disconnected. Communication tools (and any other practices I share on the blog) are not meant to be rules; instead, these are invitations to explore different ways of connecting.
Thus, as you explore this tool, stay curious and open. You might notice how different conversation partners respond, which types of situations this tool is most beneficial in, and how you feel before and after naming your needs.
As you begin to explore this tool, you may enjoy documenting your support system, reminding yourself of the people you feel safe and comfortable with– these are the people you might like to begin this practice with.