Alexa, help me with my relationships… Here is how you can learn to ask for what you want and the secret of great communication.
Are you struggling to communicate with your partner, family or friends? Are you left frustrated, angry or upset? Let me, my new Amazon ‘Alexa’ and Dr Marshall R. Rosenberg share with you a communication technique that really works.
It was supposed to be a Christmas present but I just couldn’t wait. I went out and bought myself an Alexa – one of those voice-activated speakers.
I had been pretty upset that I could no longer access my favourite radio station, Chill FM. The company had decided to rename it and make it unavailable on my DAB radio. So in one of those forced technology upgrades that I am so often resistant to, I had to fork out £45 and buy an Echo dot, as they are properly called.
And here’s the weird thing – in allowing Alexa into my life, my thinking and relationships have had a bit of an upgrade too.
It has given me some insight that can help my clients.
So the thing with an Alexa is that you absolutely have to tell “her” what you want. “She” is a machine, an algorithm. She is not psychic.
If you want to de-stress after a long day and ask her for relaxing music, she doesn’t know what that means. “Alexa play relaxing, classical music” I say. Alexa responded with, “Playing Classic Rock Relaxing Drive”. Mmm…I was hoping for a bit more Mozart, a bit less Bob Dylan.
“Alexa play some happy music!”
“Playing upbeat pop”. Hmm…not really what I wanted.
If I ask for music to help me drift off to sleep, Alexa plays “music for bath time”. That’s sort of okay.
And that got me thinking…
So often people come to my private practice because there is a communication problem between them and their partner, friends or family.
Together we explore what’s going on, what they are feeling and what is triggering those feelings, but eventually as we lay out the whole picture, I have to ask, “Okay, so what do you want?’
And at this point a client can be stunned into confusion or silence because to be honest, they really don’t know what they want.
They can become irked and respond with, “Well my husband said I should” or “I have told mum what I want to happen, but she didn’t hear me”.
“Have you asked her again?”
“When did you ask her?”
“Five years ago…”
Cue procrastination, anger, frustration and sadness about needs not being met
And so we work on what it is they want and how they can ask for it.
To help with this I have been studying the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg, the man who invented Nonviolent Communication.
It’s not as dangerous as it sounds.
Nonviolent Communication is a way of identifying what is upsetting you, then gets you to follow through, to get your needs met.
You start with a factual observation. For example, you come home from a hard day’s work and you observe the breakfast things are still hanging around.
You say, “I notice you haven’t washed up the breakfast things.” This is a factual statement. Avoid judgements, criticism and shaming. Just say what you observe.
But as you say it, notice any emotion that is stirring up inside you. Name it. Is it frustration? Anger? Despair? Sadness?
Then speak it. “I feel upset…” Or weary, irritated, over-whelmed.
Now work out why you are feeling this way. Does it remind you of something from your childhood? Perhaps an experience that has left an emotional scar?
Were you the only one of your siblings who was made to do chores? Have you worked and never been thanked? Is it assumed you will pick up after other people?
Now tell them what you need. “I need to come home to a clean kitchen after a long day’s work.” Don’t look for wrongness in the other person. Speak for yourself, speak from the “I”. If you can, access why you have this need.
And here is the clever bit… M. B. Rosenberg suggests that we ask for a behaviour change using the phrase, “Would you be wiling to?”
This phrase is very important. It works well because it is a request, not a demand. You are asking the other person to consider what you want and if they then agree, they will have possession of it. The motivation to fulfill this request has come from them.
“Would you be willing to clear up by 5.00pm and then I will have space to make dinner?”
Observation. Feelings. Need. Request.
They might of course decline your request. Then it’s time to reformulate the “willing to” question.
As M.B. Rosenberg says, “Human beings, when hearing any kind of demand, tend to resist because it threatens our autonomy – our strong need for choice.”
He says, “The basic premise of nonviolent communication is that whenever we imply that someone is wrong or bad, what we are really saying is that they are not acting in harmony with our needs.”
He goes on to explore how to say thank you properly to show appreciation of what has just been achieved.
And, going back to my original start point, as my nature is to be polite, I often thank Alexa, laughing at myself because I know she is just an algorithm. But it makes me smile when “she” replies… “You’re welcome”.
(A timely consumer note here, I subsequently discovered that to ask Alexa to play music on one device costs a £3.99 subscription per month.)
Nonviolent communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, is published by PuddleDancer Press.
If you need help with your relationships contact me.
Read my other seasonal blog post:
Christmas shopping anxiety https://loriwhitetherapy.com/blog/