“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
Before my senior year at university, I was quiet, timid and generally apprehensive about conflict.
Usually I tried to avoid it altogether and hope that the issue would naturally run its course and dissipate over time. When I felt hurt, uncomfortable, misrepresented, pressured, belittled or ignored by someone, I would attempt to cast these feelings aside. But I found that in doing so my discomfort and anxiety continued to build and became an even greater burden.
Things changed for me when I started attending social anxiety workshops provided by my university. I learned invaluable tools for dealing with conflict. Not only has this advice helped me resolve conflicts, it’s also assisted me to assess and evaluate my own emotions. I’ve gained a newfound confidence in my ability to handle any social situation.
One thing especially that I found to be highly useful was to communicate the issue(s) in written words. Allowing me to thoroughly reflect on the situation and my feelings toward it, writing helps bring clarity to the situation and communicate my perspective more clearly and effectively.
Assertive writing has helped my friends and me immensely to resolve a conflict and/or clear up ambiguities in a relationship.
One time an instructor told me that I didn’t know the subject matter after I asked him a question about my assignment. He told me to go home and read the textbook in a condescending manner, which nearly brought me to tears. I sent an e-mail about how I was feeling in his course and that his refusal to help me had been really upsetting. The next day, I received an apology in response. He realized that what he said may have been offensive and offered to provide extra tutorial hours to help his students, including myself. This is a minor case where a letter helped me resolve an issue.
It’s amazing how powerful written words can be. They give us immediate cathartic release as a channel to address our emotions and needs in a healthy and constructive manner. They’re an effective tool for open communication and prompting concrete solutions to problems we’re facing.
Below are three points to consider when writing a letter to express how you’re feeling:
1. Use “I feel” statements
These statements are profound because they phrase the situation so that it reflects your perspective and emotional needs without putting direct blame on the other person. When you frame the letter from your perspective rather than presenting a biased narration of the scenario, you avoid attacking the person you’re addressing. In doing so, they are less likely to react defensively and more inclined to cooperate with you and understand you.
2. Explain the situation succinctly
It’s important to explain the main issues without getting too much into the unnecessary details. The goal of this letter is to get your point across. Writing excessively may come across as off-putting or neurotic, and I find that a paragraph or two is more than sufficient to communicate my thoughts effectively.
3. Be as honest and truthful as possible
Although your letter should be succinct, the most convincing letters are the ones that are incredibly honest. I find this to be the hardest component of writing a letter: it involves writing about your feelings and vulnerabilities to someone so that you and they can better understand how you’ve been affected by the situation.
It takes a lot of courage to do this, but it’s worth it in the end. Once you acknowledge your feelings and communicate them, you will find a great weight lifted off your shoulders.
Here’s a sample template:
Although it’s difficult for me to bring up this subject, I feel that it’s necessary to discuss this (conflict/misunderstanding). Because I feel like I can better express myself in writing, I’ve chosen to write you a letter.
Lately, I’ve been feeling hurt about (insert situation). When (the situation) happens, I feel as though I (what emotional need is not met).
This has been weighing on me and I don’t want to leave it unresolved. I would appreciate if we can straighten this out soon, but even if we can’t I just wanted you to know how I’m feeling.
Even if you do not get a response, simply acknowledging your feelings and knowing that you have done your part to address the situation is often enough to rest your case and improve your outlook. Moreover, when it’s written down, you have concrete proof of the exchange. If you don’t get a response, not receiving an answer may be an answer in itself.
Author: Catherine Chea
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Image: Flickr/Matteo Paciotti
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