Diplomatic and tactful
August 1, 2012 11:09 AM   Subscribe

In what ways are you diplomatic and tactful in your relationship? What areas do you tread lightly and how do you do that? How do you use persuasion in your relationship to get what you want?

I'm naturally quite a blunt person, and I'm realizing that it might be helpful for me to be a bit more diplomatic and tactful with my boyfriend.

I'm wondering how you are diplomatic and tactful in your intimate relationships. Does this take away from your intimacy? Do you feel like you can really express yourself?

How do you persuade the other person to see your point of view?

Also, if you are in a relationship with someone who is a bit self-centered -- and are HAPPY -- how does your communication style work? (Or if your self-centered ex moved on to a relationship that is working for his/her partner, how does that relationship work?)

(Trying to avoid chatfilter -- but just want to learn how people that are happy in this sort of relationship function on a day-to-day basis to help me figure out better ways of communicating. I don't have any friends in this situation.)
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (25 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I learned long ago to use "I" statements rather than "you" statements. "I feel X when you do Y." "I get frustrated when I feel that you aren't listening to my issues." If you state the issue along with why it upsets you, your partner can have a better understanding of what he/she is doing and why it's an issue. When my husband and I disagree about something, I try very hard to see his side even if I don't agree with it. And I follow up with "I can see why you would feel that way..." or "I see your point." I try not to follow that with a big BUT, although sometimes it's hard to avoid. But at least I have validated his feelings or concerns so he knows I've really heard him before giving him my response, and I'm not just waiting for him to stop talking so I can tell him my side of things. Repeat back to him what you think he's saying so you're both on the same page, using "I" statements - "What I hear you saying is that you feel I'm too blunt when making a point. Is that right?" Try not to interrupt either. If your boyfriend is making several points at once, wait until he's done and then start from the beginning - "You mentioned X but I'd like to go back to what you were saying about Q."
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 11:18 AM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

To answer your question about intimacy and being able to express myself - I feel more intimate with my husband because I know we can share our innermost concerns and fears honestly with one another in a safe environment and we will usually have a productive discussion about things rather than a one-sided fight.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 11:20 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have asked quite a few questions now about issues with your boyfriend, and this one isn't too far off from questions you've asked before. Have you considered couples counseling?

To more directly answer your question, diplomacy and tactfulness are valuable skills in any kind of relationship. Just because you are particularly close or intimate with someone does not mean that you shouldn't treat them with respect and kindness. Tread lightly on issues that you know are sensitive and that aren't worth arguing about. Don't "use persuasion to get what you want." Instead, try to express your point of view in a straightforward, non-confrontational way and understand that he has a point of view, too, and that you will both have to sometimes make compromises.
posted by amro at 11:21 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have two major suggestions for you:

1. Do the Golden Rule thing and imagine how it would sound if said to you. Tweak your phrasing until it is something you, too, would be happy or glad to hear. Most "bluntness" which hurts others originates from not first empathizing with the other person's point of view.

2. If you are hoping for a behavioral change, then positive reinforcement, and only positive reinforcement, is the way to go. Don't Shoot the Dog is a great manual on how to adopt this aproach. Side benefit: you will become a very good animal educator too.
posted by bearwife at 11:26 AM on August 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

Ask more questions.

After you know what you want to say, start a related conversation and be a LISTENER, then use what you've learned to bring up what you have to say.
posted by itesser at 11:34 AM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lessons I have learned, both by living and through my psych degree:
1. People are INFINITELY more likely to be open to hearing out your point of views if you first make efforts to hear and understand their point of view. Step one for me is to always hear them out and echo back, in my own words, what I think they are saying/feeling/describing.
2. As above, using "I" statements instead of "you" statements can go far.
3. exaggerating or overstating elements to try to make your point will backfire. The more reasonable, unemotional, and accurate your points are, the more likely they will be to hear them out.
4. Speaking in concretes (ie. always, every time, never) can also backfire. If I want my partner to put the new roll of toilet paper on the roller I won't say how "every time" he forgets, because I know there have been occasions where he has done it. Instead I'll say "most of the time" or "more often than not", because that is much more accurate and temperate.
5. Compromising (to a degree), being open to negotiate, or pointing out way in which their views may be better/more accurate/whatever than yours will often open people up to hearing the rest of your points.

6. When in doubt, write it out. For real. My partner and I have basically all* of our important conversations entirely over email. It keeps the emotion and heat out of it, it gives each person the opportunity to write out their whole view on something without being interrupted, and it allows each person to react, process, and think over their response carefully instead of just having a knee jerk reaction to whatever was said, which can lead to people saying things they don't mean.

The only big conversation we didn't have over email was whether or not I should move in, and that was because it came up while we were drunk and it was a quick slurred conversation followed by crazy animal sex. We laughed about it the next day but still went through with because our drunken reasons for why we should live together made sense. Drunk logic FTW!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:34 AM on August 1, 2012 [20 favorites]

For us I think the most useful thing is to remember that we are both coming from a place of good faith in our dealings with each other. That means that neither of us is saying something specifically to start an argument but because we really want to communicate the thing we're saying. It also means that if we have an intense reaction to what the other person is saying, it's the right thing to take that deep breath and hesitate before answering, taking time to remember Good Faith. That doesn't mean we can't be angry or say that we're angry, and it doesn't mean we never argue, but it means we're both trying to hear and be heard honestly.

If one person isn't dealing in good faith - if they're not honestly trying to understand the other person's need - I don't know.
posted by Occula at 11:35 AM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

How do you persuade the other person to see your point of view?

The bad news: I don't think you can. Don't get me wrong, this question would have made perfect sense to me in my last LTR, in which I loved my partner and wanted it to work so badly, but just never feel truly heard and understood by him, no matter how much he (said he) was trying, and how much I tried to adjust my communication style in response to his complaints about it. (Note the parentheses in the last sentence: I suspect they're unfair to him and he really *was* trying. But it never felt like that to me. And that, in itself, was a bad sign.) Through our efforts to communicate better, we would briefly achieve periods I now think of as "detentes," in which we got along. But these periods weren't entirely happy because we both felt like we were walking on eggshells. The long and short of it: I just never felt like we listened to each other well. As a result, I ultimately didn't feel respected by him, either. Finally, with much, much regret, I left him.

I'm in a relationship now where this question does NOT make sense, because my partner doesn't require persuasion or even particularly extended explanations in order to see my point of view. I'm not sure he really even has to try, for the most part; we just click that way. But when we have gotten into disagreements (hard to call them arguments, since we don't yell or say hurtful things to each other), the difference between this relationship and the last one is STARK. My current partner so clearly *wants* to understand things from my point of view -- it is so obvious in the way he asks questions, listens so intently, tries to put my perspective into his own words... It's really wondrous to me.

But let me be clear: probably what I find so wondrous is the simple fact that he has the same communication style as me. So his natural way of sounding me out registers to me as thoughtfulness. My ex's style of communication simply did not register to me as the "right" way communicating, even though he certainly did try to understand me. Lo: this is what they call compatibility, or the lack thereof.

Sometimes, thinking on this, I feel (oddly enough) a little sad for my last partner and the person I used to be when I was with him. We really just had no idea that it wasn't supposed to be so hard. We tried our damned best for so long, and only now, in retrospect, do I see how futile that effort was. Love just really isn't enough without compatibility. Well -- maybe it's enough for some people. But it is WORK. And I'm not sure anymore that it's supposed to feel like so much work (at least not in the stages before life throws you some seriously tough stuff, like job losses and bereavements or even, on the brighter side, cranky toddlers).

Or if your self-centered ex moved on to a relationship that is working for his/her partner, how does that relationship work?

I would not say my ex was self-centered. His brain just worked in a different way than mine. I think (and very much hope!) that he's happy with his new partner. I don't know enough about her as a person to say what she does differently than I did, but she does seem to share more of his interests, including what she does for work, what she reads, and what she does for fun. Perhaps what's going on is that he has found a person who is compatible for *him*. I do hope so. He's a lovely guy and I wish for him -- and for you, too -- the kind of magical ease I've found in my current relationship.

All this to say: you are not wrong to try to fight for this relationship with a person you love. But if it's a constant, ongoing struggle to feel heard and respected, you may want -- although I know it will be SO hard -- to consider that perhaps the kindest thing you can do for each other is to let each other go.

This got long. Oops!
posted by artemisia at 12:11 PM on August 1, 2012 [32 favorites]

My boyfriend has used the phrase "Help me understand..." to great effect. I think it is a tool that can either work really well or really poorly, depending on how it is executed. But he is skillful and genuinely wants to understand my perspective when we're discussing a difficult issue.

I use the written word, because I'm better at organizing myself on paper than I am in an extemporaneous conversation and I can control my tone (through word choice, etc.) much better than I can when I am talking something through.
posted by jph at 12:20 PM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

What PuppetMcSockerson said. Also, it helps to remember that you and your partner aren't on opposite sides of any issue - you are on the same team, working together to resolve the issue.
posted by she's not there at 12:39 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Directness is not the opposite of tact and consideration.

My husband and I have clear, direct conversations; however, we do that with caring and respect. Back when I was dating I dropped anyone who couldn't treat me with basic courtesy. Someone's need to blurt out whatever they were thinking does not trump my dignity. Take a breath and then speak honestly and respectfully.

You keep asking the same question in different ways. Maybe individual or couples counseling would help bring this issue to resolution.
posted by 26.2 at 12:44 PM on August 1, 2012 [12 favorites]

I learned long ago to use "I" statements rather than "you" statements. "I feel X when you do Y." "I get frustrated when I feel that you aren't listening to my issues."

This isn't quite how I learned to do I-statements, and I'm not sure that it is really far afield from saying "You're not listening!" You're still attributing meaning to his actions that may or may not be there. Instead, you should talk about his specific behaviors. "When you look at your iPhone in the middle of a fight, I feel frustrated." "When you don't answer me when I call you, I feel upset."

But anyway, I'm constantly recommending it on metafilter, but John Gottman's Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work is made for this kind of thing. Key for me has been the soft opening, where you don't come in with a criticism immediately but rather approach the conversation with good humor and care for the other person's emotions. It takes practice and it takes empathy--I say this from experience, having come from a family where people are alternatively avoidant or irrationally lash out. He also teaches you to look for "repair attempts"--signals that your partner is trying to reconnect with you. 90% of the time, it's not about the issue at hand, I've found, but about emphasizing the importance of your partner and your relationship even in the midst of a fight.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:48 PM on August 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Everyone else has given quite sound advice on how to be more tactful, but there's something I wanted to point out: you phrased your question in quite a combative way. It sounds as if you're trying to find a way to "cheat" your conversations so that you get what you want without compromising. This may be why your conversations are failing (more so than any trick of phrasing).
posted by buteo at 12:53 PM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

To me, diplomacy and tact breed intimacy, not take it away. You can still be direct, concise, and clear without hurting someone's feelings through bluntness. It's the difference between saying "Hey, I notice that you get really angry when XYZ happens, do you want to talk about it?" versus "Your anger pisses me off and you need to get ahold of yourself." When you approach an issue with some tact and kindness, you invite your partner to share more intimate details about why the problem is a problem. They know that you'll respond calmly.

As far as the self-centered thing - that's really an issue I think you need to accept or move on from, same as accepting that you can't get someone to see things the way that you do. My sister is the most self-centered person I know. She has blinders on to everything going on in the world and everyone else's problems and concerns. But at heart she's a good person who just doesn't have the ability to see past herself. I've found that indulging her in talking about her own problems tends to make her more open to talking about my own.
posted by anotheraccount at 1:17 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

This question is very similar to your last question in that you are still asking how to get your boyfriend to care about your needs when you express your needs to your boyfriend and he refuses to prioritize them. No one can tell you the secret code that, one pronounced, will make him care. As I previously suggested, you will have to ask him how you can modify your speech in a way that is more compatible with his limited ability to listen, but even in doing that I fear you'll be starting down a path where your mental energy is unfairly occupied with accommodating his idiosyncrasies. He needs to pull his weight on this communication issue.

Having said all that, when I was in a relationship with a self centered, unreliable man, I discovered that he rejected most of my ideas and needs out of hand, finding reasons that they were unreasonable or impossible. Therefore I became an expert at planting seeds to lead him to come up with my idea on his own. It's not a healthy solution, but the situation you're perusing is not a healthy situation.
posted by milk white peacock at 1:37 PM on August 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

Um, I meant to say pursuing. Maybe perusing also works. Autocorrect or momentary dyslexia? Unknown.
posted by milk white peacock at 1:53 PM on August 1, 2012

All you need to do is think about how you would want to be treated, and treat your partner the way you would like him to treat you.
posted by discopolo at 2:09 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. I appreciate it very much. I guess I have asked a lot of related questions, but there are many angles on these issues and I appreciate hearing different responses, especially as I keep trying things and I'm very unsure in my relationship skills. And therapy doesn't really seem to be helping, but that's another issue entirely.
posted by 3491again at 3:20 PM on August 1, 2012

Response by poster: I should say that *individual* therapy doesn't seem to be helping. He has mentioned that couples therapy should only be as a very last resort from his point of view.
posted by 3491again at 3:21 PM on August 1, 2012

I think one way diplomacy happens is by ordering your priorities in your own mind before you open your mouth. For me, getting my partner to see my point of view is often not the real goal; in fact I just want him to agree to something because it means enough to me. I am at a point in my life where it's a very big plus if, a certain percentage of the time, my partner will do what I want simply because I ask, or at least because it's something that's more important to me than it is to him. But for that to work, I have to be willing to return the favor at least a comparable percentage of the time. In other words, pick your battles. And also, don't involve value judgments if they're not relevant. Obviously you don't say, "Honey, call me crazy but I just want you to not drive drunk with the kids in the car because I personally have a thing about it." But if the issue is indeed morally neutral, treat it that way.

A lot of the advice given above is very good and so are some of the self-help books. But you have to know your partner. My current partner is, if anything, too "diplomatic" in the sense that he uses a lot of flowery language about, "Will you do me a really big favor?" I would rather just hear "Would you please?" but that's a personal preference.
posted by BibiRose at 7:47 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

He has mentioned that couples therapy should only be as a very last resort from his point of view.

A lot of people have this view; it is kind of the worst way to look at couples therapy. One of the keys to successful couples therapy is to go while you still like each other, while you still WANT to work things out, and before the problems seem insurmountable. If you wait until your relationship is on its very last legs, the best couples counselor in the world won't be able to save the relationship.
posted by Aquifer at 8:32 PM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah bro, I read your last question too and I think this is a major overall issue. He simply doesn't prioritize your needs-- for some reason, he thinks that the relationship exists to bring him pleasure and comfort, and only acts when he's not getting those things (when you get genuinely angry). You going to have to keep blowing up and threatening his sense of stability if you want to get a reaction out of him. As far as him going the extra mile just to make sure you're satisfied, not gonna happen. You need couples therapy. Aquifer is 100% right (about going before things are already in ashes), and I don't think there's any way short of major unplanned catastrophe/actually breaking up with him (or getting close) that could knock him out of his sense of complacency with you. I'll echo something my sister's ex recently told her in a bid to get her back: "I would have spent more time with you and your family if I would have known you were serious about dumping me!" Ha!
posted by stoneandstar at 12:34 AM on August 2, 2012

I can be self-centered due primarily to ADHD and personality, and some people are happy with me and some aren't. There's nothing that they do, it's just a personality compatibility thing. Same thing with friends, some people find me irritating and difficult and some people just don't. I'm not sure tying yourself into knots and trying to change YOUR personality is the way to go here, especially if you feel it's at the expense of feeling comfortable and intimate.

For the record, I also put effort into doing things that make my partner(s) feel like I'm paying attention to them, which includes taking medication that helps me focus.

This is the truth, which I know from both ends. I am an ADHD person, and I am surrounded by them as well. I used to get upset with a particular friend because it seemed like he never fucking listened. But I realized that wasn't really him being a dick to me, but rather it was my tiny, petty ego demanding 100% focus, love and adoration at all times causing me to get upset.

And at the same time, I have been on the receiving end of an ADHD person trying like hell to be respectful and to pay attention despite their desire to go off on a tangent, and it is miserable. They aren't in the same moment with you; they are consumed with suppressing their Tourette-like need to follow that puppy or crack a joke. And being humored or pandered to is even worse than being ignored.
posted by gjc at 7:44 AM on August 2, 2012

Also, sometimes bluntness is a side-effect of attempting to tread lightly and not hurt someone's feelings. So instead of voicing a concern at an appropriate and calm moment, it festers until it becomes emotional enough to energize you into voicing your concern. And then it comes out bluntly.

The other side of that is that sometimes bluntness IS the opposite of tact and restraint. Blurting out a "what smells like shit" instead of taking a moment to notice a new deodorant brand, for example.

Everyone else has given quite sound advice on how to be more tactful, but there's something I wanted to point out: you phrased your question in quite a combative way. It sounds as if you're trying to find a way to "cheat" your conversations so that you get what you want without compromising. This may be why your conversations are failing (more so than any trick of phrasing).

Not trying to pile-on, but I got the same impression. Maybe communication isn't the issue. Maybe WHAT you are communicating about is the issue. Is it possible there is some hidden issue, that one of you may not even recognize yet, that needs to be discussed?
posted by gjc at 8:05 AM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: gjc and buteo -- can you clarify this? I don't quite understand what is coming across as combative, but maybe he is seeing things the same way. What am I "cheating" about?
posted by 3491again at 9:56 PM on August 2, 2012

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