Even the best communicators can find it difficult to express their feelings sometimes. If you need to have a potentially loaded conversation or feel ill at ease speaking with a particular person, this can all add to a sense of dread. Of course, if saying how you feel out loud always feels uncomfortable, no matter what the situation or who you’re speaking to, this can impact you tenfold.
Effective communication, as we all know, is crucial to any relationship. Whether in the workplace, at home, or with friends, being able to say how you feel and communicate what you need is key to the strength of any relationship. So, how do you achieve this and help someone else feel at ease with sharing their feelings with you in return? Here are eight steps to help you master it.
How to express your feelings to someone
We've all been there. You try and make yourself heard to someone, and it seems to suddenly spiral into an argument. When this happens, it’s easy to start feeling out of your depth when it comes to the complex emotions that can arise. This can lead to a sense of being muddled and out of control.
There is a better way, though. Chances are, if you're reading this, you may have a person in your life that struggles to express themselves. In this case, the onus is on you to help them. At the same time, you have a responsibility for your feelings, too. Here's a summary to let you know how to approach this and get your and their needs met.
- Understand your feelings first.
- Think about what you want to get out of the conversation.
- Build trust so the other person feels they can speak to you and get a positive result.
- Get some space if you need it.
- Plan the right time for difficult conversations.
- Examine your language.
- Consider your tone of voice.
- Listen as well as speaking.
1. Seek to understand your feelings and where they come from
That muddle part, where you feel a little conflicted in your head, is perhaps the thing that can trip us up hardest when we’re dealing with situations like this. It can lead to anger and frustration, saying things we don’t mean, and leaving something tense and unresolved. All this can be off-putting for you, and especially for the other person, if they are uncomfortable talking about things like this in the first place.
But let’s take it one step at a time. This part is all about you. Before you speak to someone about how you both feel, explore what that looks and feels like. There are some wonderful ways to do this, which are both effective and calming. If you want to do this regularly, writing a diary, journal, poetry, or doing a mindful activity like colouring or painting can help us explore and make sense of our feelings.
Here are just a few extra ideas for exploring more difficult emotions:
- Write down what you feel. Something as simple as writing down the feeling itself, such as sad, attacked, or angry, will help you better understand what's happening.
- Try to find the source of that feeling. Ask yourself why you might feel that, and even whether you've felt this way before in a different scenario. That may be from years ago or from a recent experience.
- Be kind to yourself. Try not to berate yourself or beat yourself up while you’re going through this process. Remember, it’s ok to have these feelings. It’s part of being human, and we all feel a range of emotions daily.
2. Consider what you want to get out of the conversation first
It’s so easy to forget this step, and yet it’s vital to a positive outcome. In our rush to express yucky feelings and get them out there, we neglect to think about what we want. Sometimes we may even find it hard to think in this way and be bold enough to say that we want something. But this isn't about holding someone to ransom over an issue or debate; it's all about inviting more harmony and happiness into our lives. That’s only possible if we’re honest with ourselves and others about what that looks like.
While you’re writing down your feelings, leave space at the bottom for this. Think carefully about what you want to get out of a conversation, whether that’s something practical or less concrete, such as giving someone the chance to express their emotions in a safe space.
3. Build trust between you and your loved ones
The scary part of all of this is knowing how another person is going to react. Will they be open or closed to what you're trying to say? Will it cause conflict and result in an argument? If you want to build that trust and encourage more open communication, there are ways to handle it and achieve a positive outcome.
Eventually, there has to be a trust element here. It’s about showing your friends and loved ones that you care about them and want to work things out and ensure that they’re ok. This rule of thumb can extend to any situation, from the workplace if you're a manager, for instance, to at home. The key is making someone not feel ashamed or afraid to raise something if they need to talk it out.
4. Get some distance if you need it
If it’s a particularly stressful or hurtful subject, it can be especially tough to talk through it calmly, and you don’t want this to end in a stand-off. In that case, don’t put deadlines on yourself to chat things through. That may only increase the pressure and lead to extra worry and confusion.
If you need some time to calm down and get some perspective, that’s understandable, and it’s worth allowing yourself that breathing space. Going into it feeling overwhelmed and out of control won’t give you or the person you’re speaking to the best chance of getting a solution.
5. Plan the best time to share your feelings
Perhaps you’re ready to talk, but the other person isn’t. They may have just finished a stressful day at work, for instance. On the other hand, maybe you’ve got your head around what you’re feeling and why, but you have a long to-do list and trying to chat now would mean squeezing it in.
You get the drift! Something as important as this needs the right setting. Shouting your feelings over a houseful of noisy kids or getting stuck into an in-depth chat just before you head to bed might not be the best time.
Ensuring you have a calm setting, some time to dedicate to the conversation, and are both at your best will help the process along massively. Of course, there is sometimes an element of just needing to get the conversation started, and conditions may not be perfect. In those cases, try and keep it as calm and uninterrupted as possible so you can both relax into it and give each other your full attention.
6. Think about the language you’re using
Psychologists tell us that language is so important in situations like this. And it makes sense. If you've ever been on the receiving end of a verbal attack, you'll know exactly how it makes you feel. It can cause anger, and it may well not inspire the person to work with you or listen to you.
Here are some ways to monitor your language as you go along:
- Be honest about your vulnerabilities, too. This is hard, but it will naturally inspire a sense of collaboration between you both. You will have already explored those emotions, whether it’s sadness, anger, or something else. Let them know what you truly feel.
- Don't say, "you make me feel." This is a cardinal rule, according to most psychologists. Instead, say “I feel” to avoid attributing blame.
- Explain the source of your feelings and ask them to do the same. This will give the other person some context to better understand your perspective and encourage them to speak with you about their feelings and where they come from.
7. Tone is important
As with any communication, it's not just what you say but also how you say it. Our tone of voice and body language can say a lot about what's going on in our heads. But before you get too far into second-guessing what your body language is saying about you, or anything else, just remember this one is really simple.
If you are feeling angry, this will come across when you speak with someone. This ties in with your aim of having the calmest, most constructive chat that you can. It's not easy, and you are not a robot! So, if things don't go exactly according to plan, do beat yourself up for that.
At the same time, giving yourself the best chance of talking through things without losing your temper, for example, is a wise move. Go back to step four if you feel there is a risk of this happening. Give yourself some more time. Understand and accept your feelings and give yourself space to work through them before raising them with the other person. Sometimes just a little bit of air is what’s needed before you tackle the conversation.
8. Remember your role as a listener as well as a speaker
There’s a balance to be struck here. To get something positive out of this, you need to know that you can express your feelings in the best way possible and that they’d be listened to. But communication isn’t a one-way street, and you have an important role as a listener here, too.
Without giving the other person the chance to respond, you’re shouting into the abyss. It doesn’t take much of a stretch, in this case, to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see how it feels to not express your thoughts and emotions.
Once you’ve told a loved one how you feel and why, be open to feedback. Practice the same openness they have shown you and take on board what they are saying. It can be hard to genuinely listen and absorb what someone is saying in emotional situations, but it will benefit you both to do so. And remember, it’s ok to ask for some time to think things over.
Sometimes we don't all react in the best way when feeling like we're put on the spot. So, should you need time to consider what's been discussed and revisit the conversation later, that's ok too. If anything, this may be an excellent approach to avoid a flare-up.
Do’s and don’ts when someone is sharing their feelings with you
It’s not always easy to express your feelings. That doesn't mean that you should forget about trying, though. Solid relationships are based on trust and openness, and honest conversations are critical to this.
It may be harder still if you try to sort out conflict with a person who doesn't like to share their feelings. In some ways, the role of listener falls extra heavy on you. But that also doesn't mean that your feelings don't matter. The truth is, if you don't approach this with equality, one or both of you will go away feeling your or their needs haven't been met. Listening is as critical as speaking. And building that mutual trust will stand you in great stead.