What do I say when I’m unhappy with someone?

One of the most common reasons individuals attend our communication courses is to learn the skills of assertiveness.  That is how to tell someone you’re unhappy without causing more upset or conflict. 

A couple of years after leaving high school I remember doing an assertiveness course at our local technical institute.  It was run by a woman who was known at the time for being at the rather outspoken and held some strong feminist views, and the approaches taught were direct with a focus on getting my needs met.  There was no mention of win-win, or how to maintain the relationship or the mana of the other party involved, which is an important piece of the assertiveness puzzle. 

When communicating, it’s always helpful to have given thought to what you want to achieve, before you have the conversation as it can help you stay focused.  If I’m unhappy with someone a key skill for me to remember is to talk about my unhappiness with the situation, how I feel about it and what impact it has on me.  Using the word ‘I’ means it’s my unhappiness with the situation not the other person’s.  They may be completely unaware that I’m unhappy with what they’re doing. 

When expressing my unhappiness, I also want to ensure that I get my needs met, that the situation I’m unhappy with changes and that I preserve the relationship with the other person.  There’s no point in my yelling and shouting and accusing them of things, particularly if I have to continue to work or live with the person.  Tearing down the self-esteem or mana of the other person doesn’t help and when people feel bad about themselves it’s not always easy to live or work with them.  I remember from my assertiveness course that it was all about making sure I had my needs met and that I told the other person what I expected of them.   However, is it reasonable and fair of me to expect that they need to change or do something different so that I can feel okay about the situation?  That was the old way of asserting – by telling the other person what they need to do or change.  Sometimes the conversation may start forcefully with anger, particularly if I want to make my point, and that could cause the other person to get upset.  In situations like this I might find myself in the middle of an argument or disagreement and things can easily get heated and out of hand from there.  John Gottman refers to this as a ‘harsh start-up’.  How I start a conversation when I’m unhappy and want to assert myself will determine my success.  Using a well-crafted ‘I’ statement that refers to the problem or behaviour I’m unhappy with, the effect it has on me and how I feel about it is a much better way to open the communication.  In our course we refer to this as a three-part I-message. 

If you’d like to know more about having the tough conversations in a way that leaves you and the other person feeling okay about each other, then get in contact about our upcoming Transforming Communication course.  You can find information here