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How to communicate feelings to deepen relationships

Have you ever held back on saying something because you didn’t want to upset someone else? If you’re unsure whether to make that ask, provide that feedback or be vulnerable, listen to that indecision - take a moment to decide what to do next.


The internal debate that happens can be useful when your intention is unclear, or your motives are less than pure. It’s not about avoiding confrontation or upsetting others but rather being clear on your intention and the outcome you’re looking for. Find the positive intention. You are allowed to feel how you feel, and in order to communicate those feelings, start with these 5 tips.


1. Understand Your perspective first

If you start a conversation by reacting or shooting ‘from the hip’, chances are it won’t go well. Instead take time to understand yourself first and ask yourself ‘What is it that I want to achieve?’ and ‘how can I improve my chances of getting it?’. Then, when you decide to communicate, you’ll have a clear intention, and you’ll be ready to discuss the situation without inflaming it. It also helps to keep the conversation focused when others try to hijack it with additional information. If your strategy involves embarrassing, shaming or belittling the other person you are unlikely to get a long-term favourable outcome.


2. Decide what information to communicate and what not to communicate

Some things are best kept to yourself because we can rarely hit the pause button when we get going, and CTRL+ALT+Delete doesn’t exist when we communicate. Once something has been communicated, it’s out there. My mother always used to remind us, ‘if you can’t say something nice don’t say it’. Now I don’t think she meant only communicate nice things, I think she meant that if what you have to say doesn’t progress anything respectfully, keep it to yourself or find another way’. Now of course it’s entirely your choice as to what you choose to communicate and how you do it because it's you, after all that has to accept the consequences. 


If you decide not to communicate something, you also need to take ownership for that decision as well. People cannot act on what they don’t know. When we decide to hold something back, it doesn’t mean repressing it. It means accepting it for what it is and acknowledging you won't be dragging it up as a defence later on. So before you jump into a conversation, decide between the things you will discuss and the things you won’t.  


3. Think about who you trust

Opening up about your emotions and being vulnerable means that you are ready to share a part of you that few people see or experience. Choosing who you share that with can influence your ongoing confidence in sharing in this way. Not everyone will treat the information as you would like them to. So, choose who you get vulnerable with, how much and when. Make sure the person you’re speaking to is someone you trust – and someone who cares about you! Sharing in this way deepens relationships and helps build understanding of one another.


Often people choose not to share their emotions and vulnerabilities because they worry about the other person’s ability to ‘handle the information’ and they don’t want to be a burden. If this thinking is preventing you from sharing how you feel or getting vulnerable, I’d encourage you to reflect on what that is telling you. Are you sensing the other person won’t respect the information as you would like them to or taking responsibility for something that not yours, i.e. showing signs of co-dependency?


4. Be open and caring

No good can come from a conversation that spirals into a heated discussion or argument where both sides dig-in. Approach the conversation with openness and a willingness to co-create a solution that meets both of your needs. Start with a clear request and see where it leads you. The worst that can happen is they decline your request. Remember that at the end of the day, the person you’re communicating with is a human just like you. They deserve to be treated how you would like to be treated.


5. Be Independent

It seems counterintuitive to think about being independent when you’re opening up to someone, but it’s a big part of a healthy discussion. Despite your relationship with this person, you are you with your own experiences and perspectives. You are responsible for your feelings and actions, and you need to understand that no one is responsible for making you feel a certain way other than yourself. Nobody makes you say things that you don’t want to. 


If you find yourself regretting how you communicated, consider what it was that you regret and why. Then ask yourself what you can learn from this experience to choose a better listener or how to better communicate your feelings and vulnerabilities next time. Chalk it up to experience. 

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