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My friend and I have been friends for many years. We've traveled together, grown up together (since our early twenties) and her family and I are close. It's important to me to maintain this friendship - I love her, and we've been through a lot of ups and downs and supported each other through rough times and celebrated good times. She and I don't live in the same city, but we talk on phone frequently and visit/travel together at least 3 times a year.

I've noticed that lately, when we hang out, she sometimes acts unfriendly. She can be blunt to the point of hurtful with people she's close with (myself and her family). This seems to be "normal" with her family (at least, her parents have never expressed surprise or hurt when she has been what I consider "rude"), but it's not ok with me. Last year after a particularly rude comment I took some time to calm down and told her that I didn't appreciate the way she was talking to me. It was hard but we had a good conversation and she apologized.

Problem is, she can sometimes still be curt, rude, and disrespectful in her tone. It's just a general lack of softening her words... for example, she interrupts me and doesn't always consider my point of view when making decisions. It gets to the point where I feel that I am "walking on eggshells" and I'm not even sure (from her tone) if she likes me - but then I think, this is crazy - we're such good friends! Have you ever hung out with someone who is "hangry"? It's kind of like that.

She mentioned to me once that she had to practice "softening" her approach with colleagues because her manager spoke to her about her coworkers being "afraid" of her.

How do I tell her I need that softened approach, too - without putting our friendship on the line? I need her to know I value her friendship, but that her behaviour seems to indicate that she doesn't like me, or that she doesn't value my opinion. I know she can be friendly on a consistent basis - I see it when she interacts with people she's not as comfortable with!

Particularly, I am struggling to find ways to use "I" statements when what I want to say is, "You can be rude and disrespectful. I don't appreciate being interrupted. When we are traveling I need you to consider my point of view, even if it is 'less convenient' than making your own mind up". How can I say, gently, "you're not friendly with me sometimes and it hurts"?

  • I'm curious: I always thought "hangry" was a portmanteau of "hungry" and "angry" and so doesn't seem to apply to your friend's behavior, if she's like that all the time and not just when she hasn't eaten in a while. I'm older, so it's possible the definition shifted on me among younger people. – Andrew Sep 15 '18 at 22:42
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this seems to be a phrasing request, which this stack has deemed to be out of scope. – baldPrussian Sep 16 '18 at 0:16
  • Please edit this comment so that it fits in the guidelines. I would suggest cutting down the size and making it more specific. Something along the lines of "How do I correct my friend's aggressive conversation towards me?" – empty Sep 16 '18 at 22:57
  • could she be autistic? This will affect how you handle this situation. – WendyG Sep 17 '18 at 15:23
  • WendyG I am 99% sure no, she is just a direct person. – Nova Sep 18 '18 at 1:18
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Sure, non-violent communication is a thing, but it will only work with some people, in some circumstances. Likewise for I-statements.

Rule #1 of I-statements (and pretty much anything else) is to shoot the message, not the messenger. For example,

  • I feel you can be rude and disrespectful.

...is an accusation against her character, which could put some people in a bad mood. The "I feel" at the start probably won't be heard. This:

  • Ouch, that was rude!

...is an invitation for her to say it in a nicer way, and not an attack on her character. This is still a kind of a I-sentence, since you are giving your own point of view. If she cares, she should answer something like "Really? Was it?" and at this point she should be more willing to listen to you, and you can go on, "I feel..."

Rule #2 of I-statements is that you're counting on the other person's empathy, so it will only work if they actually care about your feelings. This should be the case here since she's your friend. However, I-statements can make you sound weak, especially if you use them on someone who has a competitive attitude or a "strong personality" like your friend seems to have... In this case, there's a tradeoff: you're going to sound like a whiner and lose a little bit of her respect, while counting on her respect for your feelings for it to work, which is a bit of a paradox. I-statements aren't a panacea.

She seems to have a strong and competitive personality, not very sensitive, and her family seems to be like that too, so this may be her normal way of interacting with people she's comfortable with, as you say:

I know she can be friendly on a consistent basis - I see it when she interacts with people she's not as comfortable with!

I think you're focusing on your own point of view too much: you're considering I-statements because they would work well on you, but that isn't the point, you are looking for something that will convince her, not you. So, you have to consider her own point of view.

If she's used to interacting with her family in ways that you find curt and a bit offensive, then maybe you should try that on her.

An example: at a dinner, I was introduced to a woman whom my friends described as "she scares all the dudes away", well she was certainly loud and boisterous, and she talked like a drunk pirate, teasing and talking trash, interrupting everyone constantly to talk about herself, etc. Also, very hot, which some would perhaps find intimidating. So, when she finally shut up to have a drink, I casually mentioned that her tattoo looked like garbage, and asked her if she got it in jail or something. After she recovered from a spectacular fit of giggles, we were best buddies for the rest of the evening. I simply used her own method of communication on her.

She mentioned to me once that she had to practice "softening" her approach with colleagues because her manager spoke to her about her coworkers being "afraid" of her

This is a very good sign, as it shows that she is aware of the problem, and she's trying to fix it, but maybe she has trouble doing so, because people don't actually tell her when she's going over the top. Without feedback, one can't adjust...

I'm going to suggest you both agree to learn from each other in order to increase your communication skills. For example, when you have something to say, you should interrupt her. It doesn't matter if you consider it rude, what matters is if she considers it rude to interrupt. If she's okay with it, then go ahead. Feel free to add "Wow, I managed to shut you up!" and score an achievement. Likewise, when she does something that you find rude, provide immediate feedback. Don't hold a grudge for a long time, that's unhealthy. Instead, just say something like "Ouch, that was rude!" on the spot. Observe how her family members talk to her, and use this as a blueprint.

If you are shy and have trouble making yourself heard, practicing it with her should help you. Learn each others' languages, basically. This should prove valuable when interacting with others too.

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    Constantly watching how you word things is exhausting, and she loves being with her friend as she "understands" and can just be herself. – WendyG Sep 17 '18 at 15:21
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    I'm going to mark this as my accepted answer because I like that you helped me understand how to talk "her language". You're right - I statements would work for me, but might not be best for her. I don't think I'd go as far as saying, "wow, I managed to shut you up" :P but I might say, "I wasn't finished" or "please don't interrupt me". I think the approach here - immediate feedback - would work well in our relationship and I hadn't considered it, because it would hurt MY feelings if the situation were reversed - but she's not me! Thanks :) – Nova Sep 18 '18 at 1:04
  • @Nova Thanks! I hope it works ;) – peufeu Sep 18 '18 at 9:55
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I think you were getting close when you mention "I" statements. But specifically you need to avoid making direct judgements about her. "You can be rude and disrespectful" is an example of this. Statements like this somewhat subjective. While many people may agree, you say her family tend to be this way. It could be rude for many, but maybe just normal for them.

What I'd suggest is addressing it when it happens, but do so by focusing on how you feel. An example:

When you do X, it makes me feel hurt (or upset, or whatever you feel). We've been friends for so long, I know you aren't trying to be hurtful, but I can't help how it makes me feel sometimes.

From there you could bring up what she mentioned about needing to soften up her speech at work and even offer to be her "social coach" and poke her when she sounds harsh.

Make it clear you're not accusing her of any bad intent, but just hoping to help others see the good things you obviously see in her. Nobody is likely to try to change if they feel attacked.

  • This is a good start for an answer using the techniques of nonviolent communication aka compassionate communication. Could you go into more detail about the 4 components of NVC (Observations, Feelings, Needs, Requests) and use the template "When you [A] I feel [B]. I need [C]. Could you [D]?" or some equivalent. Once again, excellent start. – empty Sep 15 '18 at 19:48
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Particularly, I am struggling to find ways to use "I" statements when what I want to say is, "You can be rude and disrespectful. I don't appreciate being interrupted. When we are traveling I need you to consider my point of view, even if it is 'less convenient' than making your own mind up". How can I say, gently, "you're not friendly with me sometimes and it hurts"?

One approach to writing I statements is to start by just putting "I feel" in front of what you are thinking of saying. So you would write down something like

  • I feel you can be rude and disrespectful.
  • I feel I don't appreciate being interrupted.
  • I feel when we are traveling I need you to consider my point of view, even if it is 'less convenient' than making your own mind up.
  • I feel you're not friendly with me sometimes and it hurts.

You may find the statements that you've written to be kind of clumsy and not how you talk. That's fine at this point. Don't be afraid to sound clumsy now. You'll be changing it. Or since this is an IT site, refactoring it. The important part is to get those feelings down on paper so that you can refer to them in the next step.

In the next step, try to rewrite the "I feel" statements to be more natural but still express the same thoughts. If you can, try to express things as an observation, a feeling, a need, and a request. This is the four-part non-violent communication.

  • When you interrupt me (observation), I feel disrespected (feeling).
    Now think about what you need and what request you will make.
  • When we are traveling and you find it more convenient to make up your mind yourself than to consider my point of view (observation), I feel [what?] (feeling). I need you to consider my point of view.
    Finish out the feeling here and add a request for how your friend can consider your point of view. "Can you do that?" is a possibility, but the more concrete the request, the greater the chance of compliance.
  • When you're rude or not friendly towards me, I feel hurt.
    Again, think about what the real need is here and what you want to request.

Sometimes people criticize me for concentrating too much on wording. This is not some perfect rewording of what you originally said. You should put things in your own words. Particularly since I may be misunderstanding what you want to express. But I find it easiest to explain with examples.

The point is that you should try to fit your statements into the pattern: I [observe something], and I feel [something]. I need [something]. Would you be willing to [something]?

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