It’s Not What You Say – It’s How You Say It

None of us are born knowing how to communicate perfectly with other people.  Some of us are born with better role models of communication, where we watched adults and caregivers express their thoughts, needs, and feelings in healthy and productive ways.  Others grow up learning more dysfunctional ways of communicating – or not communicating at all, or downright destructive and abusive ways of communicating – and may carry these learned habits with them into their own relationships.  

Communication is a skill.  That means it is something that must be taught, learned, and practiced…  

What this means is that no matter who you are, how you grew up, or how you old you are, you can learn the skill of healthy communication. You absolutely can learn how to communicate in more healthy, effective ways, which leads to healthier and more satisfying relationships.  

It’s not what you say – it’s how you say it.

When we talk about “how” you say things, we are referring to delivery.  People are constantly communicating with each other, but the message often gets lost if it’s delivered badly, and the conversation can take a whole new – often negative – direction if we’re not communicating well.  

Certain ways of delivering your thoughts and feelings helps your partner to be responsive, and other ways of saying things puts them on the defensive.  

Delivery is about word choice and tone.

There are a million ways to say the same thing.  Let’s say you come home from work, looking forward to some new cookies you made, and you discover they’re all gone, and there’s your partner with cookies crumbs on their chin.  

Here’s a few examples of what we could say.  Tone is indicated in the [brackets], and the word choice follows:

[Sarcastically]” Those cookies must have been good, bc there’s none left for me!”

[Angrily] “What the hell happened to all the cookies?!?”

[Frustrated and upset] “Why do you eat so much all the time?  You’re going to get fat!”

[Accusing]  “You ate all those cookies, didn’t you?  You never leave me any!!”

All the above examples are more than likely going to put your partner on the defensive, because all of them have an attacking tone.  We all naturally want to defend ourselves when feeling attacked, and it’s hard to blame your partner if they get upset in response.  Before you know it, you’re both angry with each other, either fighting or giving the silent treatment, and you both feel upset and misunderstood.

But if we look at all these examples, they are really all communicating the same thing:

“I wanted some cookies tonight, I spent my time making/getting them, and it appears you ate them without making sure I got some too.”

Aren’t all the above examples essentially saying that?

If we spend some time being intentional about our tone and word choice, we can convey what we are thinking and feeling and open up a conversation in an more productive way – because you’re expressing your needs in a healthy, open way, and not putting your partner on the defensive.  

[Gently] “I spent time making/buying those cookies, and there are none left for me.  I’m upset because I was really looking forward to them, and it feels like you weren’t considerate of me when you ate them all.”  

The above statement is much more likely to lead to a productive conversation about the cookies, an apology from your partner, and a mutual plan to make sure to leave some cookies for you in the future.  


It can be helpful to work with a counselor to identity your feelings and think about different ways to communicate them.  If you are interested in addressing communication issues in counseling, contact me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s