You call a friend on the phone to ask how they are doing, and they say, “Uh, Oh, I’m so busy…..,” They identify with being stressed and busy. But I always wonder if under the veil of “I’m so busy,” they are trying to communicate how they are feeling.

Early in my career, I can remember hearing co-workers and managers express dissatisfaction and discomfort with one another by saying stuff like, “I feel like (person) is being (adjective).” In that statement, the person wasn’t telling me what they were feeling. In truth, they were rarely communicating how they were feeling. Instead, they expressed an opinion because they used the word “like.”  Here are some examples:

Person says: “I feel like Bill is being a jerk.”

But the person feels: “When Bill speaks to me this way, I feel devalued.”

Person says: “I feel like you are a bad driver.”

But the person feels: “When you speed, I feel scared.”

Do you see the potential misinformation or confusion above? In both examples, the person isn’t communicating how their experience feels or is feeling. As a result, it is hard to understand and connect with them. 

Problem solving and relationship building between people is harder to cultivate if either person communicates inaccurate information about their feelings.

By contrast, when a person says “I feel like…..”, rest assured they are not communicating how they feel. Instead, they are expressing an opinion. In reality, the feeling is probably right under the opinion they spoke. They just need to identify the trigger and the feeling that is generated.

People are constantly distancing themselves from what they feel and how to say it. As a result, it creates distance in all relationships, especially professional ones. How can trust develop within team dynamics or from boss to employee if people consistently communicate lousy information? 

Great leaders know how to get past the opinions that are quickly stated and ask the questions that truly uncover “how someone is feeling” given a specific trigger.  If you want to be understood and have a meaningful impact, it’s worth diving deep into understanding “what is going on” inside of you and understanding your feelings before you share. 

In moments of conflict, this is critical. Here are a few practical and straightforward ways to communicate what you feel vs. an opinion:

    • Pause: Step back and remember you want the best for the relationship first, to be heard and understood second.
    • Ask: On a piece of paper, write “what is going on inside of me” or “what is it in me?”
    • Identify: What is it? What is the feeling? Write it down. Many times, the feeling has nothing to do with them. It may have to do with something completely unrelated. If it does, then okay.  
    • Separation: Separate any trigger from the feeling. 
  • For Example: “When Bill speaks to me this way (trigger), I feel devalued (feeling).”

And here’s the Big Whipp: Learning to understand the difference between a trigger or situation and how it makes you feel is a game-changer to improve your communication, understanding, and connection with others.  

In the end, relationships in the workplace thrive when accurate information is given and received. And when a leader takes a little time to understand “what is going on inside of them” and communicates accurately, psychological safety is established, relationships thrive, and performance improves.  

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