Maren Schmidt: We cannot not communicate

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Be careful for what you ask for - you might get it.

To communicate to the heart of our relationships, it is important that we learn to state our needs with clarity and positiveness. Negative requests can confuse the listener and provoke resistance. When we make a request in the negative - "I don't want chocolate ice cream" - the request may be interpreted and received in a multitude of ways. The receiver might think you want anything but chocolate ice cream and bring you brussel sprouts. Or, resistance may be created - "Who does she think she is? Too good for chocolate ice cream? Humpf."

- Be positive and clear. Stating our requests clearly and friendly - "May I have some strawberry ice cream, please?" - will either get us what we want or information that our request is not available. With positive and clear messages, we're less likely to end up with small cabbages for dessert.

- Avoid vague words. In our communications, we need to specify actions while avoiding terms for vague behaviors. The request "Don't run" might result in whatever the listener can think of quickly, perhaps skipping, jumping in a puddle or stopping in the middle of the street. A positive statement - "Walk and hold my hand, please" - is clear and specific.

- Make precise requests. Certain words lend themselves to ambiguity. Instead of using the phrase "Help me," be specific in your request. Say instead, "Please take the kitchen garbage out now." Include the person's name, and you make the request more exacting.

Vague terms such as "being responsible" need to be given as well-defined examples. A request to clean up the living room is indefinite. "I need you to vacuum the floor before the real estate agent comes at 2" makes the request crystal clear.

- Think and rehearse. Making clear requests takes practice and conscious effort. One pitfall in learning to express our needs is that we can state our needs but not offer clear guidelines for action. For example, "I'm thirsty" may get you a glass of water or a sideways glance with the retort, "Is your arm in a sling?"

More evident to the listener is the request, "May I please have a glass of ice water?"

- Ask or demand? Requests made without addressing personal feelings and needs may sound more like demands or ultimatums. Saying, "Put your coat on" may create resistance in the listener. Add feelings and needs to the request, and cooperation is more likely. "It's cold outside, and you're getting over a cough. Could you please put on your coat, so I'll know you are warm enough?"

We cannot not communicate.

Each time we interact with a person, we are consciously or unconsciously making a request. Perhaps our request is direct, aimed at specific people with defined objectives; or indirect in that we want to be listened to, understood and acknowledged either verbally or nonverbally. A nod of the head or a raised eyebrow may be all that is asked of a listener. We need to be on the lookout for implicit requests for more information that include honest feedback or a specific action to fulfill a need.

One thing is certain. The more precise we can be about what we want from another person, the more likely we are to get what we want.

Write to Maren@KidsTalkNews.com Copyright 2008.

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