Reality Check: Better Left Unsaid?

Communication is generally recognized as being essential to the development of satisfying relationships. I’m not just talking about romantic relationships here. All kinds of relationships: friends, work-related, parent-child, student-teacher, benefit when people can communicate effectively.

Did you notice the word “effectively” in that statement? While we may talk a lot, not all talk is effective communication. For example, choosing to argue, to use sarcasm, to label, to accuse, to blame, or to complain are communication choices that don’t exactly help build close, satisfying relationships!

It doesn’t feel good when someone speaks to us that way, does it? When you know that you’ve been the target of a sarcastic comment, an unjust accusation, or a nasty label, you may choose to respond positively. Good for you if you can! Staying positive isn’t the easiest response choice, is it?

When we are the recipient of unhelpful communications, it can be easy enough to detect. How about when we’re doing the speaking? Do we detect those unhelpful communications just as easily? Think back. Have you ever said anything such as the following?

  • “You never listen.” (with the word “never” emphasized.)
  • “You deserved what you got!”
  • “You are always doing something stupid.”
  • “You’re just lazy.”
  • “I’ve told you over and over.”
  • Nobody cares what you think.”
  • “I’m sick and tired of listening to you.”

Or, have you ever asked questions such as:

  • How many times do I have to straighten you out?”
  • “What is wrong with you?”
  • “Will you ever learn?”

There are plenty more examples, but I am sure that you get the picture. What is the common theme in these examples?

Each phrase or question carries with it an implication that the talker is superior to the listener. After all, do you actually expect to give or receive any real information with these examples?

Now, if you were to use appropriate body language and tone of voice, it might be possible to say these phrases without conveying a perception of your own superiority. Maybe. Perhaps. With difficulty.

So, I’m going to recommend dodging that difficulty by suggesting that phrases or questions of the sort are best left unsaid. If the only result of speaking is a conflict or strain on the relationship, then isn’t it more effective to hold back?

There can be a remarkable contrast between how sensitive we are when on the receiving end of criticism, complaints, and so on, versus when we are dishing them out! Or maybe that’s just me…

When speaking, remember that communication can help or it can hurt. If you are not sure, consider whether the point of your statement or question is to help you feel superior. Are you trying to assert your position? Demonstrate your power? If so, consider holding back.

Because effective communication is so essential to relationships, try asking yourself, “Will this help or hurt the relationship?”

If you conclude that it will hurt, then what can you say instead? Try nothing. Remain silent. See what happens. Does that make things better or worse?

What’s your opinion of the examples I’ve given? Do you agree that they are words best left unsaid? Do you have other suggestions?

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