Strong Negative Feelings in Your Words and Tone

Goal: Build your awareness of the ways in which strong negative feelings influence your communication

Estimated time: 20­–30 minutes

Think back to a time when a person did or said something you really didn’t like. (If you have difficulty thinking of something, consult the examples below.) Then have your partner ask you four sets of questions:

  1. What feelings did you experience when this happened?
  2. What thoughts did you have? Were any of your thoughts attacks?
  3. What things did you actually say? Were any of those attacks?
  4. What was your voice tone like, as far as you can recall?

Examples of Actions or Comments That Might Bother You:

At work: someone making rash decisions; giving you confusing or contradictory information; submitting substandard work; keeping inconsistent hours; missing deadlines; treating staff poorly or unequally

At home: someone nagging; being careless with money; failing to do chores, run errands, or fulfill other responsibilities; missing curfew, skipping school, or breaking other house rules

In any situation: someone being critical; complaining; interrupting; gossiping; talking about you behind your back; being late; failing to share vital information; failing to deliver on promises; making decisions that involve you without talking to you first

Ask your partner to help identify any attacks in what you thought and said. Be prepared to get feedback that may surprise you, and make sure you’re open to hearing it; the other person may notice quite a few attacks that you weren’t aware of. (Most of us find it difficult to identify our own attacking communication.)

When you’re finished, switch roles. Repeat this exercise as often as you’d like, with different examples, being careful not to do too many in one sitting. (If you start to feel drained, take a break and come back to the activity later.) Then look back on your responses and see if you can notice any patterns in what happens to your thoughts, words, or voice tone when you’re feeling upset.

Variation: Do this exercise on your own, writing your responses down on paper.

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