If you have someone in your life who treat you in ways that leave you feeling unsafe, propose introducing these Ground Rules For Emotionally Safe Communication in that relationship.
Agreeing to these ground rules in all our communication helps us both to feel safe and have our feelings respected. They are particularly important during challenging conversations when we are triggered with anger, sadness, fear, guilt and/or shame. We commit to applying them even when we are most upset.
1: We wait until the other person has finished speaking before talking
We do not talk over each other or interrupt, no matter how intense our feelings nor how pressing our need to speak may be. We will have our turn in a moment. We may break this rule only to remind the other person when they are breaking any of these rules, such as not remaining silent until we have finished talking.
2: We express our feelings and needs clearly without judgment
We talk about our own feelings and needs, using “I” statements instead of “You” statements. We withhold our internal criticisms and negative judgments of the other person's feelings, needs, thoughts, beliefs, desires, motivations, values or character. We keep derogatory thoughts about the other person to ourself. We refrain from emotional manipulation by simply stating how we feel and what we need, without blaming or loading guilt onto the other person either in our words or tone of voice.
3: We do not raise our voices when we are angry or upset
Raising our voices or otherwise adopting an aggressive tone of voice is a form of emotional manipulation. Instead, we simply say “I am angry” and make a clear request for what we would like from the other person. It is then their choice whether they agree with the request. We do not punish them for non-compliance.
4: We talk about behaviors that impact us, not character
When the other person's behavior is triggering us, we express how we feel and we make clear requests about how we would like their behavior to be different in future. We focus on the behavior while refraining from criticizing the other person's character, values, beliefs or motivation.
5: When one of us has an issue to discuss, we both have an issue
When one of us approaches the other saying that there is an issue they would like to discuss, we take a deep breath, remind ourself that it's all going to be OK, and prepare to listen to what they have to say keeping in mind the rest of these ground rules. If it's important to you, then it's important to me; and vice-versa.
We raise issues as soon as possible so they don't fester. If discussing the issue immediately is impractical, or we feel so overwhelmingly triggered that we need some time-out before continuing the discussion, we say so clearly and negotiate a suitable time and place in the near future to discuss with it.
6: We take responsibility for our own feelings
We acknowledge when our emotions are triggered by the other person's behavior, without blaming or criticizing them for how we feel. We say “I felt X when you did Y”, rather than “You made me feel X”. We own our own feelings and acknowledge that each of us will trigger upset in the other from time to time.
7: When we break these rules, we apologise and re-commit
We are both human. We are not “perfect”. We do not always act according to our highest values or live up to our own high expectations. When we do things that we regret, including breaking any of these rules, we take the soonest opportunity to apologise sincerely to the other person and state what we would have preferred to have done. Then, we recommit ourselves to abiding by these rules again in the future. This way, we do not need to feel guilty or ashamed about the times that we do not live up to our own high standards.