Maren Schmidt, M. Ed.

Maren Schmidt, M. Ed.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Learning To Request What You Need

At the heart of our relationships is the need for effective communication. Our objective is to build a relationship based on honesty and empathy. The two basic components of effective communication consists of two skills:

1) Expressing observations, feelings and needs honestly while withholding blame and criticism.
2) Receiving information from others without hearing blame or criticism, while asking questions to understand the other person’s observations, feelings and needs.

Our next step in effective communication is to request what we need in order to enrich our lives. 

We can use the following sentence to help us separate feeling from opinion and then connect feelings to a need:

I feel (emotion) because I need or want (spiritual or physical need).

With this clarity of feelings and need, we are ready to request what we need.

How we make the request is vital.  Requests to others are more likely to be accurately received when sent in clear positive language.  We wouldn’t dream of going into a restaurant and telling the waitress, I don’t want a hamburger, and expect to get the spinach salad we want.  Much less expect the waitress to bring us a spinach salad without us uttering a word.

Unfortunately, we expect many of our requests to be understood without directly making a request, or our requests to others are framed in don’t statements. Don’t forget.  Don’t be late.  Don’t touch.  Don’t statements tell others what we don’t want instead of what we do want.  Why do we use don’t statements?  Because we lack inner clarity about what we really want. 

Perhaps making clear requests seems selfish to us.  Many of us were raised to be happy with what we were given and not to ask for any thing else.

Or perhaps we’ve never taken the time to truly consider what situation, items or cooperation we need in order to fill our needs and desires.

Vague requests probably can’t be accommodated by others and also contribute to self-confusion.  If we want to eat and only say, I’m hungry, we may or may not end up with something to eat and could be surprised with what we do end up with.

If we can express ourselves clearly using our feelings and needs with the request, we are more likely to obtain what we want.  For example, saying, “I’m hungry.  I need to eat soon.  I think I’d like to make a peanut butter sandwich,” will probably get you what you want more than just saying, “I’m hungry”. In addition, you’ll have a clear idea and avoid self-confusion.

Oftentimes we are unaware of what we are requesting, like those times when we stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open.  We’re hungry or bored, but we don’t know what we want.

Request or demand?  A request can sound more like a demand when we don’t express our feelings and needs along with the request.  “I want a peanut butter sandwich,” may come across as a tantrum waiting to happen. 

When another person hears a demand from us, the usual response is to either give in, or to rebel.  How can we tell if a communication has been framed as a request or a demand?

When the speaker’s request is not complied with we need to observe the speaker’s behavior.  With a demand the speaker may try to criticize, judge, blame, or lay a guilt trip on us.  For example watch for statements from the speaker such as these: You never listen to me. You are a terrible mother.  I’ll get sick if I don’t eat.  You don’t love me.  Sound familiar?

With a request a speaker will show understanding with the receiver’s needs.   Using our peanut butter sandwich example, if the response was “Dinner is in 15 minutes. Can you wait to eat?” what responses might we expect, from a demanding person and a requesting person?

With a demand, we might expect a criticizing, blaming or judging response, in an effort to manipulate us into compliance.  With a request, we might hear two basic responses:  Yes, I can wait, or, no, I need to eat something as soon as possible.
Help your children learn the difference between a demand and a request so they can make requests to improve their lives, and yours.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

When Needs Are Not Fulfilled

Effective communication is at the heart of strong relationships.  Our parenting and teaching work with children is dependent on vital relationships and communications. 

Effective communication is based on two essential skills: 

1) The ability to express honestly how we are, and
2) The ability to understand from others how we are, all without giving or hearing blame or criticism.

Honest expression about who we are occurs when we connect our feelings with our needs and choices for our behavior.  Understanding from others how they perceive us requires that we seek to discover what they are observing, feeling, needing and requesting from us. 

What happens when needs are not met?  Communication can come into conflict when needs are unfulfilled.  Unmet needs can lead to feelings that we consider negative--anger, confusion, disappointment, frustration, hopelessness, irritation, sadness, loneliness, embarrassment, to name only a few. 

We should use negative feelings as a wake-up call to understand that our needs are not being met.  Using the following phrase can help us connect feelings to needs, allowing us to move forward in a way that embraces life instead of being bogged down in life-alienating emotions:

I feel (negative emotion) because I need or want (spiritual or physical need).

Use these lists of feelings and emotions to answer your wake up call.

Negative Feelings

For a list of feelings, positive and negative, see Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, pages 44-45.

Spiritual and Physical Needs


Emotional safety

            To choose dreams, goals and values
            Create self worth
            Create meaning
            Create an authentic person
            Create personal integrity

Physical Needs
Protection from danger
Sexual expression
Fully understanding what we need makes the next step in our communication easier-asking for what we need to enrich life.   Requesting what we need not only enriches our own life, but also adds value to all life on this planet.  In the big picture, requesting what we need is not a selfish act; our requests to improve our lives improve the world. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Connecting Needs To Feelings

A critical aspect of effective communication is learning how to express our needs.

In our efforts to communicate effectively with others, we need to learn how to observe behavior, without evaluating, to figure out an individual’s needs. 

For effective communication, we need to differentiate between feelings and thoughts. 

We need to be aware of how using I feel statements may be expressing an opinion and not true feelings. 

The next step in effective communication is to connect feelings to personal needs.  

Two kinds of needs. Humans have two types of fundamental needs-physical and spiritual.  The basic survival needs of food, clothing, shelter and protection are evident to most of us.  Other physical needs include air, water, exercise, movement, disease control, sleep and rest, sexual expression, and touch of other living beings.

Spiritual needs are more extensive and, unlike physical needs, are difficult at times to determine if they are being met.  Being able to connect feelings to spiritual needs, though, becomes vital to both communication and opportunities for personal growth and freedom.

Humans have basic spiritual needs for beauty, harmony, inspiration, order and peace.  Some spiritual needs combine with physical needs.  These needs include activity, exploration, orientation, order, becoming, belonging, repetition, precision, exactness, communication and imagination.

Needs create feelings and behaviors. The combination of these needs create tendencies for behavior and include as well as define other specific needs, such as acceptance and appreciation. 

All of us share requirements to be involved in activities that meet our physical or spiritual needs.  For example, our spiritual need to belong to our place and time, our families, and our communities appears in our choices of dreams, goals and values. The need to belong affects our decisions about food, clothing, housing, marriage partners and on and on.  The need to belong also encompasses our needs for acceptance, appreciation, celebration, consideration, emotional safety, honesty, love, respect, trust, understanding, friendship and more.  

We could look at each of these needs, activity, exploration, orientation, order, becoming, belonging, repetition, precision, exactness, communication and imagination,  and consider how each need drives our behavior.  Taking the time to examine our personal connections between needs and behavior can help clarify the relationship between feelings and needs. 

Feelings are need driven as well.  As we learn to communicate and accept our emotions, while understanding that our feelings are linked to our needs, we become emotionally responsible. 

Once we connect our needs with our feelings, behaviors and actions, we start to take responsibility for our intentions and actions.  We will also realize that we are not responsible for others’ feelings.   We may even experience anger as we no longer want to base our choices on avoiding someone’s disappointment.

The end stage of emotional responsibility is emotional liberation, where we accept full responsibility for our personal emotions but not the feelings of others.  We understand that we cannot meet our own needs at the expense of others. 

Practice connecting needs with feelings and behavior by using this sentence:

I am (emotion) because I need or want (spiritual or physical need); therefore I choose to do (behavior). 

Two examples:

I am happy because I need harmony; therefore I choose to take a walk everyday. 

I feel frustrated because I want to have more time to exercise; therefore, I choose to wake up an hour early every day.

To create powerful communication, connect feelings with needs and choices for behavior.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Learning To Express Needs

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 two, 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 look out 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 on what we want from another person, the more likely we are to get what we want.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Owning Our Emotions

Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning writes about our freedom residing in the space between stimulus and response. 

Your child hits you. 

Your freedom lies in the space of time between being hit, the stimulus, and your response to being hit. 

That moment contains your power to choose how you receive the message and your response.  In your response lies personal growth and freedom.  This space offers a small window of opportunity that enlarges with practice. 

When we are sent negative messages, either verbally or nonverbally, we have four options on how we receive the message.

One, we can blame ourselves.  Junior hit me because I’m too busy to take him to the park.

Two, we can blame others.  Junior is out of control.

Three, we can sense our own feelings and needs.  We might think: I understand that Junior is disappointed about not going to the park.  But I need to fix dinner and I don’t like to be hit. 

Four, from the negative message, we can sense others’ feelings and needs.  Junior is feeling angry because I can’t take him to the park right now to swing on his favorite swing.  He wants to have my undivided attention.

Frankl also wrote that freedom must be lived in terms of responsibleness.

Like two sides of the same coin, with freedom comes responsibility.  We take responsibility for our choices by acknowledging our own needs, desires, expectations, values or thoughts, rather than blaming others for our feelings.  When we can connect our feelings to our needs, others find is easier to respond with kindness and understanding.

A trap we can encounter in this space between stimulus and response is that we may try to change others’ behavior by using guilt and abdicating to others our responsibility for our own feelings.

Take for example this phrase: You make me mad.  Here’s the reality.  Nobody can make you mad, or happy for that matter. When you own your emotions, only you can choose to be mad or happy, or whatever other feeling you choose in that moment between stimulus and response.

We also begin to take responsibility for our feelings when we can distinguish between being motivated by guilt and wanting to give from the heart.
In our example of the hitting child, if we interpret the negative message of hitting as the child’s way of saying “Mommy, you make me so mad”, we could choose to receive this message with the first option, blaming ourselves. 

Blaming ourselves can lead to guilty motivations instead of giving from the heart.  Motivated by guilt we might respond and say, Here sweetheart, have a piece of candy, or think, I’m a terrible parent, instead of trying to understand our own feelings and needs, much less trying to comprehend someone else’s feelings and needs.

If we choose to respond to the hitting using our fourth option, sensing others feelings and needs, we take responsibility for our own feelings and needs and act in a way that is not motivated by guilt.

To become aware of our abilities to respond, and to use the time between stimulus and response effectively, practice using the following phrase:

When you (action), I feel (emotion) because I (want or need).

Back to our hitting example:  When you hit me, I feel upset, because I want to get dinner ready, and have more time to spend with you. 

Remember, our freedom lies in the space between stimulus and response. We always have a choice.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Communicating Emotions

A long-term study of college students tested their vocabularies while also asking the group to rate their level of happiness. For over fifty years the test subjects with the largest vocabularies declared the greatest satisfaction with their lives.

For many of us the vocabulary to express emotions is limited to a few words. Mad, sad, glad, bad.  Additionally many people were raised to not express feelings and find it difficult to connect their emotional states to words.  

Others may say "I feel," but they are expressing a thought: I feel that we should elect a new mayor. Replace the words, I feel, with I think, and the opinion becomes obvious.

Being unable to communicate emotions, due to a lack of vocabulary or an inability to connect words and feelings, damages our relationships and prevents the creation of healthy life-long relationships.

Learning to distinguish between thoughts and feelings. We need to help our children and ourselves learn to differentiate thoughts from feelings.  

Marshall Rosenberg, in his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, says that feelings are not being clearly expressed when the word "feel" is followed by certain words:

1) That, like and as if.  
Examples: I feel that nobody listens to me. I feel like an idiot. I feel as if I'm in a box.

2) Pronouns I, you, he, she, it, they, it.  
Examples: I feel I'm being used. I feel it is a lost cause.

3) Names or nouns referring to people.  
Examples: I feel John is responsible for the situation. I feel the child is being manipulative.

Interestingly enough, when we express a feeling we don't need to say "I feel." For example, I am feeling sad or I am angry express feelings and not thoughts or opinions.

Once we learn to tell the difference between thoughts and feelings, the next step is to distinguish between our self-opinions and feelings.

Learning to distinguish between self-opinions and feelings. It's easy to fall into the trap of using the phrase I feel to express who or what we think we are. I feel I'm a terrible tennis player doesn't express emotion but gives an opinion. I feel frustrated when I play tennis, I don't enjoy playing tennis, I'm disappointed with my tennis game--these statements reflect feelings.

After we begin to see the difference between self-opinions and feelings, we need to look at I feel statements to see whether they might reflect our impressions of others' opinions.

Learning to distinguish between our impressions of others' opinions and our feelings. We need to keep our antennae up when using I feel statements to understand if our words are telling us more about how we think others are behaving, or what opinions others have of us.  

I feel stupid communicates more of what you think others are thinking about you rather than your true feelings. I feel discouraged may express your honest emotions about your interaction with others.

Be aware of these words. Here are words used with I feel statements that express how we think others are thinking.  

I feel (fill in the blank): boxed-in, bullied, cheated, cornered, interrupted, intimidated, unheard, unwanted, used. These words do not express true feelings.

Build an emotional vocabulary. My seventh-grade English teacher forbade us to use the words ''good'' or ''nice'' in our writing, a great way to enlarge emotional vocabulary and to sense the truth in a situation.  

Which words better communicate feeling good? Carefree. Jubilant. Amazed. Thrilled. Pleased. Moved. Excited.  

Or feeling bad? Afraid. Bewildered. Blah. Blue. Fidgety. Lonely. Irritated. Resentful.

When we can express our feelings clearly we connect with others more easily. With authentic connections to others, we resolve conflict more simply, leading to healthy and happy people. Or should I say, merry, or mirthful, or enchanted, or satisfied, or excited....

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Heart Of Relationships: Effective Communication

To know who our children really are, we need to observe our children at work and play.  J Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher, wrote that the highest form of human intelligence is observing without evaluating.

The more I observe the more I understand Krishnamurti.  Observation and evaluation serve us best as separate activities.  Observing people’s behavior and keeping the observation free of the evaluating components of judgment, criticism and psychoanalysis can be challenging to say the least. 

Some might say impossible.

Observing the child having a temper tantrum, we tend to think and judge: My, what an awful child. 

Criticism enters: Why don’t the parents do something? 

Analysis begins:  Poor child.  Not enough sleep or adult guidance.  A good snack and a nap will fix that.

Even if we can avoid judging, criticizing or analyzing, other tendencies creep into our observations.  Labeling and classification begin with thoughts such as—Oh, that child’s trouble, is spoiled rotten, has bad parents, needs medication, should see a doctor, and on and on.

Name-calling and pigeonholing, though, doesn’t help the child or strengthen our relationships.  One of the inherent problems with language is the difficulty we have in making words represent a world of change, growth, processes, and other dynamic functions.  With every experience, we are all changing.  How can our thinking and language embrace that change?

Observing while withholding evaluation aids us in finding the complexity in situations, as well as understanding the inadequacy of language to define a constantly changing reality.  Language limits our perception of the whole child, the whole person and the whole world.

As we observe we need to train ourselves to be aware of how language, a static process in a dynamic activity, makes it easy to judge, criticize and analyze other’s behavior. 

Unfortunately, recipients usually perceive our name-calling and labeling as critical and judgmental, and not as an offer of help or guidance.

The words, always, never, every, whenever, as well as frequently and seldom, exaggerate a situation and create defensiveness in the listener while confusing observation and evaluation within the speaker. A few examples follow: 

Evaluation: He always throws a fit. 
Observation: This past Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings for about ten minutes before dinner he has laid on the floor, cried, and kicked his feet. 

Evaluation: His parents never make him behave. 
Observation: On two occasions I saw him throw books off the shelves with no interference from his father.

Evaluation:  He is just hungry and overtired. 
Observation: He didn’t eat any lunch and was up at 5:30 this morning.

To communicate effectively and understand how to strengthen a relationship, practice observing behavior without evaluation. 

Edit out the judging, criticism, analyzing, name-calling and labeling that prevent honest expression and compassionate listening, the two key components to effective communication. 

The heart of our relationships lies in our ability to communicate honestly and with compassion.

This begins a series of articles on effective communication.