Building Respectful Relationships

  • Print Article |
  • Send to a Friend |
  • |
  • Add to Google |

Building Respectful Relationships means better communications. There are five things that matter in a communication.

1. What is said?
2. How it is said.
3. Who is saying it?
4. Why is it said?
5. How do you receive and perceive it?

Let's discuss the four things that matter most in interactions and see how you can use words and actions to achieve better outcomes. Often true feelings are not clearly demonstrated or understood and so mixed messages are sent out or received.

1. What is said is the message in words.
Sometimes changing the words can convey a completely different meaning.
Even in the very best of homes and strongest of families remarks are made that are hurtful, unkind, or misinterpreted. For instance: Travis came home from school sad because he was not chosen for class play. He is feeling vulnerable and desperately needs reassurance that he is a good person. However, when he stands close to his mother while she is on the phone, she frowns and makes a shooing message at him with her hands. Even if the his mother was in the midst of an important call, Travis senses from her facial expression and demeaning tone as a judgment on his or her character.

Take, for instance, a parent who uses a sarcastic tone to tell a child, who has spilled his milk, "You are so clumsy, what a klutz." The child will incorporate that information into a belief about the kind of person he or she is and will become. It is a fact that the milk was spilled, this is a true happening. But the child forms a belief that he or she is a klutz.

As your child is growing and maturing he will repeat and reinforce those words over and over again in his mind, every time he accidentally drops a paper or trips over a rug. He will begin to define himself by those words and even tell others that he is clumsy and a klutz.

The mind chatter and belief system will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As an adult, he will become self-limiting in taking chances for fear he will screw up or make a mistake in an important project. He has actually become dis "couraged" and lacks the courage to try. He is afraid to take a risk because he might prove his parent to be right. That long ago sarcastic criticism took away his courage to proceed.

On the other hand, as an adult he has the ability to look at the words and descriptions still running through his mind and decide which of them are actually appropriate and which are not true now, nor ever were true. Perhaps that belief system needs to be replaced or reframed.

2. How it is said has to do more with tone of voice and facial expression than with the actual words spoken.
One time our son, who was six at the time, told me to stop yelling at him. When I denied even raising my voice, he said, "Your voice wasn't yelling, your face was." His comment made me realize that my mind was still on a problem at work and my expressions were harsh.

Consider the range of feelings conveyed by non-verbal communication. Remember the saying "Oh" in different situations exercise at the front of the book?
A smile can communicate happiness, anxiety, or even contempt. If our body language is

stiff, the other person may interpret that as conveying superiority or even uncertainty.
The same words or phrases can convey very different messages. Each person is unique and we must learn to listen and watch careful to correctly interpret what is said.

If you don't understand a message, then ask the speaker what they mean and to explain, so there will be no misunderstandings. Even if a remark was made years ago it is not too late to clarify it if the message you internalized was actually what was intended.

3. Who is saying it?
The identity of the person who is saying the words or sending the non-verbal message makes a difference. If the listener perceives that the speaker is one of authority, the message carries more weight.

When I conduct life story writing retreats and classes, almost everyone responds when I ask who can remember a pivotal moment from childhood. I am always amazed at the power to hurt or heal those parents, teachers, and other adults in positions of authority, hold in their hands.

4. Why is it said?
What is the motivation or goal behind the words? Are you trying to persuade, discipline, educate, gain acceptance, display power, gain an advantage, enlist help, ask for a favor, give an opinion, or even offer a suggestion? Perhaps the intent was to show caring and love, but the speaker did not know how to come right out and say the words.

What is the goal you subconsciously hope to accomplish? Sometimes it is necessary to tell, and other times to teach, in a mutually respectful way. Could you convey your message by not saying anything? Frequently the most important part of the communication is non-verbal, such as nodding your head to indicate agreement.

5. How do you receive and perceive it?
Where were you emotionally when the communication took place? Were you feeling fearful, angry, or vulnerable? Were you expecting criticism, so you heard the critical remarks and overlooked the parts that were positive? Or were you feeling strong and confident that you had tried your best and so were able to let anything negative slide off? Did someone praise or compliment you and you accepted it with grace?

Your self-esteem is cumulative rocks and gold nuggets which your thoughts and emotions have deposited in your miner's pan since you were a child.

A friend told me that their parents never said the words, "I love you." It was only in reflection and through self-growth that he could recognize the spoken words, "Take your sweater, it might get chilly today" was their way of saying they cared about him as an individual. Sometimes his mother said nothing but handed him the sweater. Their intent was to express compassion and love but lacked the skill and ability to express it openly. Perhaps they did not know how, because they had never been told.

It doesn't matter now because my friend recognizes the underlying message and is breaking the vow of silence by openly telling his children of his love.

Don't tell, laugh at, or tolerate any racial, ethnic, gender or religious jokes or innuendoes. Make them unacceptable for you to verbalize or publish on the Internet.

If you realize that many of your interactions contain the unspoken intent of belittling or demeaning another, then find another way. Find a method of communication that builds not belittles.

Analyze a Recent Conversation
1. What was said? ______________________
2. How was it said?______________________
3. Who said it?______________________
4. Why was it said?______________________
5. How did you perceive it?______________________

Attracting a Positive Reaction
The spilled milk scenario could have been handled in a way that created self-esteem, trust, and competency. The goal was to acknowledge spilled milk. That message could have been conveyed by the adult saying, "Whoops, accidents happen. Here are some paper towels, clean it up please." If the child didn't get all the milk, then perhaps, "You are almost there, just a little more and you will have done it."

This is the child's problem and he should be allowed to clean it up and rectify the situation. By not making a big deal of the situation, the parent is saying, "I have confidence in your abilities. You are a problem-solver and it was an accident. Accidents happen."

A similar negative scenario signaling low expectations is created by "watch-out" comments. Have you ever said to your child?

"Don't spill the milk.
Be careful or you will spill your milk.
You almost spilled your milk.
How many times do I have to tell you to not spill your milk?"

And sure enough, the milk gets spilled!

That which we think about and speak about, we bring about. Why not just move the milk away from the edge of the table.

If you expect bad things to happen they will.
And if you expect good things to happen they will.
The more you talk and think about what you don't want, the more you get what you don't want. It is called the law of attraction and it works.

Stop thinking about negatives and worrying about what will or could happen, and focus on the positive parts of life that bring you joy.

When is it Verbal Abuse?
Verbal, emotional, or mental abuse is more than just slinging insults. Body language of a dismissive shrug, eye-rolling, sneer or raised eyebrow can turn a seemingly inoffensive statement into a nasty and hurtful dig. With physical abuse, there is no doubt that the abuser meant to hurt you and you have the bruises to prove it. However, with emotional abuse, the scars and wounds are internal.

In the experience of many participants in my family workshops the three most common types are:
Names: Being called dirty or derogatory names is unacceptable. When someone calls you stupid, lazy, bitch, or any other labels it hurts your spirit and makes you feel uncomfortable.
Shame: Critical, sarcastic, mocking words meant to put you down either alone or in front of other people. They make you feel less than you are.
Blame: Verbal abusers are great manipulators and will rearrange what happened to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Somehow, if only you had been perfect it wouldn't have happened. Your feelings are dismissed and they do not want to discuss any topic where they might have to take responsibility.

Responding to Verbal Abuse
If a person you are close to habitually dismisses your feelings, calls you demeaning names, or makes you feel of little consequence, you are being verbally abused.

Like other forms of abusive behavior, verbal abuse usually escalates unless you become empowered and set some boundaries of what you will and will not tolerate. If it escalates to physical abuse of you or your children, leave. Personal safety is more important than the relationship.

The power to destroy or build lies in
the power of the tongue.

Toxic vs. Nurturing Messages
One of the most significant ways to assist our children as well as the inner child within each one of us to become a fully functional and authentic person is to communicate in a positive way.

This means that your inner dialog is filled with positive affirmations and encouragement rather than putdowns and negative statements. Nurturing communication says, verbally and nonverbally, "I love and accept you. You are valuable and worthy."

It also means putting a permanent stop to any comment that will indicate judging, belittling, blaming or fault-finding. It may mean that you will have to practice new approaches when anger, frustration or old patterns trigger old responses.

Strive to be part of the construction team,
Not the demolition crew
Begin today to speak in nurturing ways that build, support and enhance. Pause before you lash out. Replace subtle, destructive and negative messages with positive, nurturing and caring ones.

Setting Boundaries in Relationships
Boundaries are like fence lines that protect the precious heart and soul inside our bodies. It is important when we build and maintain those lines of protection that we make decisions about what is and what isn't permissible in all relationships.

Boundaries are Valuable!
If we don't honor ourselves enough to draw the line and stick to it consistently, it doesn't matter how elaborate the fencing and eloquent our statements are. It is just as valuable to the other person that they learn how to be with you and what the guidelines are for the relationship.

All relationships work more harmoniously when the participants know what to expect and what is expected of them. Being kind, but firm, when stating what you need from a relationship allows the other person to reciprocate. How other people act and think often has nothing to do with you, but rather with their own perceptions. You can only take care of yourself.

Make sure you appear confident and you speak with a neutral, calm and non-accusing tone when establishing your boundaries. Use "I" statements which reflect on how things affect you, rather than "you" statements which put people on the defensive. If necessary, put your palm up in a "Stop" position to indicate that they have crossed the boundary.

Treat arguments like weeds
- Nip them in the bud.

Top Ten Tips for Setting Boundaries
Jamie McCarvey, a friend and successful life coach, shared the following list for successfully setting boundaries in relationships. Boundaries are an important part of creating a life that works well for you. Boundaries are lines of protection that you draw in your life. You decide what is and isn't okay and then hold people and yourself to these boundaries. Developing this skill is an important part of living a life you love. The first step is to decide that you value yourself enough to draw these lines and the second is that you value others enough to teach them how to be with you.

1. Be Compassionate. Setting boundaries can be an act of compassion. You are a teacher. Teaching others how to be with you is an important skill for communication. Being compassionate and setting boundaries can go together. Empathize with where they are coming from and set the boundary.

2. Flat Tone of Voice. When you are setting a boundary it is critical that your voice convey a neutral tone without anger or judgment. If there is a charge to your communication then the message can get lost and the clarity of the boundary becomes clouded. Practice speaking in a calm, kind, but firm voice so it feels natural.

3. 4-Step Model. Use this 4-step model to set boundaries. It is simple and effective and can keep your communication on track. This will be explained in detail shortly.

4. Practice. Find someone to help you practice your new skill. When you get more confident then you can start setting boundaries with others in your life. Start setting boundaries with people who will offer little resistance, and then move up to more challenging people. Get a feel for what it is like to draw the line.

5. Body Language of Confidence. Watch your body language. Do your shoulders slump? Do you look down when you are talking? Do you mumble? Do you fidget? Start becoming aware of how you come across. You want your body language to communicate confidence so challenge yourself to hold your shoulders back, sit up straight, and make direct eye contact.

6. Use "I" Statements. When you are speaking be responsible for the words coming out of your mouth. Make "I" statements that reflect how things affect you, what you believe, or your ideas. "You" statements can put people on the defensive and detract from effectively communicating your boundary.

7. Don't Take Things Personally. How other people behave, act, and think often has nothing to do with you. It has to do with their life experiences, their beliefs and the agreements that they have with the world. You must be responsible for your own communication and not take their reactions personally.

8. Find Your Own Words. Listen to how others talk. Learn different ways to language what you want to say and read how others communicate and set boundaries. Then develop your own way to speak.... find your own voice and your own style of expression. That way it will be natural for you.

9. Don't Assume Responsibility for Others. Don't assume responsibility for other people's feelings. Again this has much more to do with them and their views of the world. Create clear direct ways of communicating and allow others to feel how they choose.

10. Be Aware of Your Own Sensitivity. When you first begin setting boundaries you might be very sensitive to what people ask of you or how they relate to you. You have opened up a new awareness and you may be viewing your communication in a completely new light. This is great, but it can also get in the way if you jump ahead in the model or your new sensitivity affects the tone of your voice.

4-Step Model for Setting Boundaries
To be effective in changing your old patterns and your expectations in others you must be:

Kind. Firm. Consistant.
Use the following dialog to practice this new skill. Remember to keep your tone of voice non-aggressive. With your facial expression, body language, and verbal language give the message: "I want to be kind but firm. This is important to me and I am serious."

1. Inform the person in a non-combative tone of voice of your boundary. "I can hear you when you speak in a regular tone of voice. Did you realize you were yelling?"

2. Request that they honor your boundary. "I ask that you talk to me without yelling."

3. Insist that they honor your boundary, again with a firm but kind voice, "I insist that when we are talking we talk in calm voices."

4. Leave the situation. Now is not the time or place to continue communicating with someone who refuses to respect your boundaries. Leave the door open to talk later in a more respectful manner. Continue to maintain a calm but firm voice and say, "I will not continue this conversation in this way. I welcome an opportunity to talk with you without yelling or screaming. Let me know if you decide to visit without raised voices."

True unhappiness comes from giving up what you
really want for what you want right now.

What Boundary Would You Like to Establish?
Write out the statements that will help you practice setting a relationship boundary. Practice saying it out loud in front of the bathroom mirror until the language becomes comfortable for you. Take back your power. Accepting their demeaning treatment allows them to have control over how you feel.

1. Inform ___________________

2. Request __________________

3. Insist  ____________________

4. Leave ____________________

Don't take it personally if they reject your request to be treated with respect. You cannot assume responsibility for other people's feelings, agendas or methods of communication. You can only state how you desire to be treated in life.

If there are old patterns, it may take some time to convince others that you are serious about sticking to your boundaries. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and courtesy. At first, people you know may be surprised when you tell them they have crossed the line, but with persistence they will eventually respect you more. Hopefully, they will model this communication style and it will make for more honest and open relationships in your life.

Be a "Good Finder" Not a "Fault Finder"
It seems to come naturally for some people to be nit-pickers as if they were mother monkeys looking for the tiny bugs on their children. They search, scratch and dig until they uncover the tiniest of irritants. Then they wave it triumphal as if they have uncovered a secret treasure! You can almost hear them and their human counterpart saying; "I am only doing this for your own good. I wouldn't dig and scratch at you, if I didn't love you."
Nit-pickers can always spot a flaw, a weakness, a vulnerable place or tender spot.

Criticism comes natural and flows from the verbal and non-verbal communication with relationships. Unfortunately, many people are not even aware that there is a better way to motivate cooperation and encourage good behavior.

We need to convey through words and gestures that we appreciate our childrens' efforts and improvement, not just their accomplishments. It is imperative they understand that our love and acceptance is not dependent on their behavior or getting an A in math.
By being on the lookout for the good and positive actions and commenting on them, both the child and parent will create a positive expectancy of finding mostly things to be proud of.

You don't always get what you want.
But you usually get what you expect.

Next: Encouragement is a Gift of Courage
Previous: Communication is More Than Just Words

Judy H. Wright is a parent educator, family coach, and personal historian who has written more than 20 books, hundreds of articles and speaks internationally on family issues, including end of life. You are invited to visit our blog at for answers and suggestions which will enhance your relationships. You will also find a full listing of free tele-classes and radio shows held each Thursday just for you at

Article Rating (4 stars):
  • article full star
  • article full star
  • article full star
  • article full star
  • article no star
Rate this Article:
  • Article Word Count: 3371
  • |
  • Total Views: 3099
  • |
  • permalink
  • Print Article |
  • Send to a Friend |
  • |
  • Add to Google |