Home / Blog / When It’s Not About the Nail – Thinking About Effective Communication

When It’s Not About the Nail – Thinking About Effective Communication

Written by David Carrigan
Published on July 6, 2018

Effective Communication for Change:

Recognize Problem. Identify Cause. Dispense Solution. Rinse, lather, and repeat. For a lot of people, myself included at times; this process is automatic for the brain. Someone you love has a problem, you can identify that problem, and you feel the need to fix the problem or tell them how to fix it. You love them and are trying to help them, what’s the problem?

This desire to fix a problem, often as soon as it’s presented, is called the righting reflex in psychology. It is our well-intentioned desire, for those we care about, to make things better. However, even though we have the best intentions, the righting reflex isn’t always what’s needed.

This is what the video above so humorously demonstrates. The man can see what the problem is; it is right there sticking out of his girlfriend’s forehead. However, despite his best intentions, he goes right into Mr. Fix-it mode, and all he accomplishes is pushing her away and raising her defenses. The exact opposite of what his intention is.

This scenario plays out in real life all the time. The nail in the forehead could easily be a loved ones drinking or drug use, a significant others unhealthy work schedule, or a child’s procrastination. Ineffective communication can perpetuate and feed into a vicious cycle. As the problem gets worse, communication worsens, further isolating the person we love. Recognizing when the righting reflex is driving us and trying to be more cognizant of how we communicate can start to break that negative cycle and help move the loved one closer to change.

Try and recognize what your loved one might need and that they may not be looking for a solution at that exact moment. In the video when the man finally lets the women speak and acknowledges her difficulties you see her defenses drop and she becomes more comfortable and receptive. The problem is still there. There is still a nail in her forehead, and your loved one may still be drinking or engaging in their problematic behavior. However, by communicating more effectively, they can move closer to accepting their problem and working with you toward a solution instead of against you.

This doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to your loved one’s problems, it just means recognizing how best to communicate to work toward change. When the time comes to have a difficult conversation always remember these seven steps in communicating effectively.

The seven guidelines to Effective Communication:

1. Be Brief – Stay on topic and keep it short and sweet.

2. Be Positive – Ask for what you want, instead of what you don’t want, and avoid using blaming words or statements that will cause the other person to get defensive.

3. Be Specific – Use specific examples and ask specifically for what you want.

4. Label Your Feelings – Tell the other person how you are feeling in this situation.

5. Offer and Understanding Statement – Demonstrate that you can understand why they may be feeling the way they do (even if you don’t agree with it).

6. Accept Partial Responsibility – Own your role in this situation (yes, you do always have a role, and no it’s not all your fault!).

7. Offer to Help – Offer ways you can help them do the thing you want them to do.


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