Having covered venting in the previous blog, let’s look at another form of expression used frequently by those in conflict: the verbal dig.
When someone is angry, but not expressing their anger directly, they will often attack in a sideways fashion, by insulting or undermining the other person, usually as an aside. For example:
“He forgot to pick me up (fact), like he always does (dig).”
Note that the first part of the sentence looks more like fact, the second part like commentary, with a bonus of generalization. True, the speaker is providing information, but the listener needs to sift through the second part to extract meaning.
- Is the speaker angry? Irritated? Hurt?
- Is it her perception that he forgets her each and every time he is supposed to pick her up?
This “short-cut” of a jab obfuscates both the meaning and the intention behind it. If we can take more responsibility for our communication, expressing the facts and the feelings, and taking some time to identify which is which, we can break our communication into its component parts, thereby making it identifiable and digestible to the recipient. By delivering a message in a way it’s more likely to be received, the speaker increases the likelihood of being heard and connecting (versus enjoying the smaller satisfaction of having delivered a blow).
A sarcastic jab, much like a judgment, is a short cut – but it does not get us anywhere desirable and it certainly doesn’t get us there quickly.
If we conceptualize communicating as providing nutrition to people we care to feed, the purpose is to give them simple, clean food, and present it in such a way that they caan identify and digest it. A sarcastic, sotto-voce jab is like the Big Mac of nutrition – the receiver knows he is getting something, but he’s not entirely sure what it is, and his body doesn’t know how to break it down, derive its nourishment, or process it. Essentially, the speaker has given something indigestible to the listener, and the listener has nowhere to go with it.
Indirect communication in this sense is not a road to healing or intimate relating, but is aggressive and unhelpful. This indirect type of communication does not address the anger or reason for it, just gives the object of the anger a sideways, verbal kick.
If the speaker, rather than making the dig, said something like this:
“He forgot to pick me up (fact). He does that a lot. (more facts, historic). It makes me feel neglected, unimportant, hurt, angry (feelings).”
Now we have real information. Now we have the opportunity for the speaker to really assert herself while at the same time the listener has a better chance of hearing what was said.
- Does this seem artificial? Inorganic?
- Does it require greater thought and self-awareness? Perhaps initially, but I suggest that it may be a small price to pay as we develop new ways of relating; because what we have come to accept, particularly from those closest to us, is often confusing, hurtful and harmful.
If we set an intention of communicating more clearly, we are also committing to looking within before reaching out.
We are asking ourselves to identify what we are really feeling first, and what we really want to do about it. We are taking greater responsibility and accepting the power we were hitherto outsourcing to another. We are also making space for something amazing: the opportunity to relate first to ourselves and to do so with compassion. We can begin to create the rapport we desire by first creating it within.