Do you remember when you were a child and your parent, teacher, some person who you were supposed to listen to said, “Say Please“? (I hope you added the whiny voice.) I don’t know about you but most of the time I muttered something under my breath as I dutifully said the ‘magic‘ word. To my young ears it sounded more like they wanted to control me and show who was in charge. Not always, of course. I really wasn’t a surly child, but sometimes the insistence did rankle me. They knew what I meant, why all the fuss? Thankfully I’ve grown up in this regard and do make an effort to ask for what I want rather than demand it. I don’t mind using the word ‘please’ and consider it a way of showing that I am taking someone else into consideration. So I can truthfully say that the edge this word once held has smoothed out. But here is another take on the word ‘please’. This is my weekly reflection from the Non-Violent Communication Academy.
Every Angry Message is a “Please”
Sometimes it is hard to remember, but every time someone speaks or acts in anger or frustration, he is saying “Please!” Consider the please when your child says, “We NEVER get to do what I want to do!” The child is saying, “Please, I want fairness and fun. I want to know that you care about my needs, too.” How about when your wife says to you as you walk in the front door, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you for an HOUR!” Perhaps underneath this statement, she is saying, “Would you please consider my needs for predictability, respect, and trust?”
Okay, maybe these are too obvious. What is the “please” behind your boss’s statement? “This presentation was deplorable. The computer didn’t operate properly, the graphics were juvenile, and the timing didn’t work. I was embarrassed to present this to the Board, and it must not happen again.” Maybe she’s saying “please” to higher-quality presentations and maintaining a certain image with the Board.
The next time someone expresses their disappointment, frustration, or anger toward you, take a moment to consider the “please” behind their words. When you do this, you have a much greater opportunity to resolve conflicts peacefully.
When a person’s communication is difficult to hear, notice the “please” behind it. When you can hear it as “please,” does it shift how you feel or respond? (1)
Not long after I read this reflection my husband and I had a substantive conversation about how we are dealing with our finances. We talked about how do we honor creative endeavors, maintain optimism, make responsible financial choices, and keep a positive ‘were in it together‘ attitude. This type of conversation has great potential to devolve into frustration, feelings of hurt, and end with a spat of angry words. Needs for understanding, being heard, and compassion can easily go by the wayside.
Neil’s pretty good at telling me when he needs to rant but saying that doesn’t always make it easy for me to listen. We both get triggered by each others words. This time I was determined to hear the ‘please‘. So instead of getting caught up in the words I was hearing I was able at intervals to have him stop talking so I could tell him what I was hearing and check out if I was getting his message. I didn’t always get it right or hear what he thought was most important. Still listening for the ‘please’ I was able to hear his clarification. At one point I asked him if he felt heard enough that he could listen to me. There was more he wanted me to understand before he was ready for me to talk. When he felt fully heard then he was ready to listen to my concerns and wishes.
What was a recipe for an overheated, emotional exchange became an opportunity to clarify and ‘get on the same page’. How satisfying! This ‘please‘ wasn’t my childhood memory of who’s got the power, but the ‘please‘ to let the other person know they matter and what they want is important. I’m almost certain that this conversation wouldn’t have gone so well had I not read the reflection first. When I kept listening for the ‘please‘, it did shift how I felt and responded.
(1) This reflection is an excerpt from Peaceful Living: Daily Meditations for Living with Love, Healing, and Compassion by Mary Mackenzie, published by PuddleDancer Press, and is offered courtesy of NVC Academy and Mary Mackenzie.