When you live with people it is inevitable that you will end up in a confrontation with them now and then. This is the nature of families and the learned dynamics and patterns of behavior that come with it. I have noticed that when I am in the privacy of my own home I am more likely to overreact with an emotional knee-jerk response to things.
Because of this I sometimes find myself in arguments that are completely meaningless. I look back on them afterward and am unable to figure out how it started or why it even seemed to matter. Is getting upset about the way the dishwasher is loaded really worth all that emotional energy? Definitely not!
One day I came across the acronym WAIT which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” I believe this is a very important question for us to ask ourselves regularly, and it has revolutionized the quality of my communication.
After discovering this acronym, when I find myself getting worked up in a conversation, I try to stop for a beat and ask, “Why am I talking?”
Am I just picking a fight because I already feel grumpy?
Is this something I truly care about?
Am I holding onto resentment from a past issue?
Taking this brief moment of introspection leads to a few follow up questions as well:
- Is what I am saying important?
- Is what I am saying a fact or an opinion?
- Is what I am saying relevant to the purpose of this conversation?
- Is what I am saying fair and respectful?
This reflection helps me get clear on my motivation for speaking and gives me the opportunity to adjust my mindset.
Here are four reminders that WAIT prompts which have helped me communicate more effectively:
- Be Clear about the Facts
Try to speak only what you know to be true. If you want to give an opinion, use “I” to ensure that your listeners are clear that it is only your perspective. Also, the words “always” and “never” are inaccurate and unhelpful. People often become defensive when these words are aimed at them.
- Take Responsibility
My thoughts, feelings and desires are my own responsibility, and yours are your responsibility. While we cannot control what someone else says or does to us, we can control our response to it. Instead of taking a perceived affront personally, we can choose to look for the lesson and learn from it. We can choose to allow it to roll off our back and move on. We can choose to go forward and do something for our self that will help us feel good again. This keeps us out of victim-hood and allows us to retain our personal power.
- Don’t Worry about Being “Right”
Is it more important to be right or to be happy? As much as the logical (and slightly self-righteous) part of my brain screams, “Right, of course!” I know in my heart that I want to choose happy. If your goal is to be right, that automatically places the other person in the category of “wrong.” This creates an opposition where you are now pitted against one another. Can you truly judge things absolutely? Instead of desperately clinging to the idea of being right, try just letting it go. Take things a little less seriously and agree to disagree.
- Focus on the Problem, Not the Person
When in conflict with someone, I keep in mind a quote by Steve Maraboli: “Let’s not forget it’s you and me vs. the problem…NOT you vs. me.” When I stop to ask myself why I am talking, it gives me the opportunity to ensure that I am focusing on the problem instead of blaming or attacking someone. Even if I have an issue with that person, it is with their behavior, not them as a person. We must work it out together in a constructive and respectful way.
When you find yourself speaking thoughtlessly or impulsively instead of with intention, just WAIT. Ask yourself, “Why am I talking?” Take a moment to reflect on your motivation. Keep these tips in mind and allow them to guide you toward more effective communication.