MANAGING TOXIC COMMUNICATION – 5 steps before you press ‘send’

In last week’s blog (‘Honey catches more flies than vinegar – 5 tips to change toxic communication’) I wrote about changing the way we interact with our former partners and co-parents, so as to remove toxic communication from daily life.


I had some really interesting questions emailed through to me.  Feedback was largely that the instant gratification which comes from scoring a point makes it hard to resist the temptation to engage in conflict.


We are all ‘human’, and it does feel good to return a ‘zinger’.  However, that feeling is usually very short-lived.  If it only incites return fire, in fact it has not been a victory, and is now just fuel on a potentially large fire.


To remove toxic communication from our lives we must recognise a simple reality – when we are angry, we often say the wrong thing.


Relationships where communication is dysfunctional usually have an identifiable turning point – the point at which functional communication went bad.  That will be something different for everyone, but when you actually identify it, it will likely be something simple – an argument about who was picking the children up, or criticism about the children having a fast-food meal.


It is not the issue which dialled up the conflict from ‘simmering’ to ‘bonfire’.  It is all of the words that went around it.


That in turn led to an equally cranky reply, containing more offensive content.  And then a reply.  And so on.


Before you know it, you are not even able to have a civil conversation on the telephone, or be in the same room together.


All of that could have been avoided had text messages and emails not been sent in anger.


That cycle can be circumvented by following a simple rule: unless the issue is genuinely urgent, do not respond immediately.


By all means, get your response on paper, as that can be cathartic.  But do not click ‘send’.  Save that response in draft, and set yourself a time limit (for example, one hour) before coming back to it.


In that hour you are giving yourself time for your blood to cool, and to think more objectively about your response, the way it is worded, and its content.


Use that ‘thinking time’ to complete the following 5 steps:-


  1. Identify your objective – Ask yourself, what am I trying to achieve with this communique? If it is just to ‘vent’, don’t do it.  Respond only if there is something constructive to be achieved.


  1. Be strategic – Put yourself in your former spouse or co-parent’s shoes. Understanding what they want to see occur, or what is important to them, helps frame your response.


  1. Identify any common ground – Things you agree on can be recorded, and removed from the agenda.


  1. Focus on disputed items – Is there something your adversary wants of you?  A trade-off can potentially be used to break through impasse.


  1. Be persuasive – Set out your proposal. Explain why.  If you are prepared to make a concession to achieve your objective, make that offer.  And keep it simple – ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ goes a long way.


Only press ‘send’ once you’ve followed this process.


This will give you a better chance at achieving your target.  Being angry will rarely do that – you seldom get the best out of people when they are backed into a corner.


I acknowledge that these steps are hard to follow.  There will be times when you want to give your spouse a piece of your mind – there and then.  Resist that temptation as long, and as often, as you can, as while you may win that battle, it has the potential to create a war.  Instead, remember that any point-scoring will be short-lived, and that you are far better to play the long game.




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