I Want What I Want

“I want you to do ____!”

Hearing someone tell you they feel angry, and they just want you to do a certain thing can be one of the most difficult communications situations to be in. We know from Marshall Rosenberg that when someone is voicing anger, they are voicing an unmet need. We know that the unmet need is theirs, not ours. And this can be very difficult to remember in that moment.

Often times our natural response is one of fear and we become defensive. We hear them blaming us, wanting us to take responsibility for their anger. Even when we try to hear the need, they just keep focusing on the strategy. For example, if my spouse tells me with some frustration that the “house is a mess, you need to pick up after yourself!” and I reply “It sounds like you feel very frustrated and want some help with picking up the house”, they may answer, “No, I don’t want help, I want you to do it!”

I understand that needs aren’t person specific, but in this moment my spouse has decided on one strategy: me. I’m supposed to pick up the house. At this moment they can’t imagine any other strategy. I may see myself as stuck in this conversation. At this point I need to check in with myself and see what I’m feeling and needing.

I may feel anxious, telling myself I’ve done something wrong and need to fix it. However, picking up the house at this point won’t meet either of our needs. I will be doing it to try and please them, and that doesn’t help either of us understand what is going on for each other. It is important that I get clear on what I need in this situation too.

I may need to say to my spouse, “I’m feeling really anxious about this and I need to take some time to connect to myself. I really want to be present with this because I can see this is important to you. Could we talk about this again later today?” Sometimes the best we can do is to leave a conversation until we can understand what we are feeling and needing.

I may also be feeling some frustration myself, wanting to be able to have a choice in doing what they are asking. I know that doing things from the heart is the only way to connect to another. I may say to my spouse “I see you are frustrated and want me to pick up the house. It’s very important to me that I do things from the heart. I’m wondering if you would be open to talking about how we can both have our needs met?”

We often forget that there are a plethora (one of my favorite words:) of strategies to meet our needs. When someone is locked into one strategy, it takes some authentic sharing on your part to open the possibility of other strategies. It may be that the strategy they started with is the one you end of up choosing. But you will have had the chance to both come to an agreement on that strategy.

This technique works in so many situations. Say you are at work and a co-worker wants you to do something that just doesn’t fit with how you work. Many of us get stumped. We may do it, but feel angry and grumble. We may avoid the other person. We may say we will do it, but then “forget”. Do these sound familiar? Another option is to figure out how you feel and what you need and then come from that place when talking to your co-worker. It’s from a place of curiosity and also self-respect. This takes trust at times. But the result can be amazing!

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