Have you seen the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Growing up Italian, I always thought that we were like Toula’s family. Big, loud, and passionate. Until I married into my husband’s family. I realized quickly that my whole life was a lie. My family was in fact the dry toast. We were bland, without any marmalade.
The Lukins hail from Croatia. My husband being a first generation American is still very closely tied to his European roots, as is his entire family. Like many other cultures, Croatians are loud and they know how to party. Compared to them, I come from a family of reserved church mice. His immediate family easily includes more than 30 people, mine is about 10. Our wedding was approximately 70% Croatian, 30% my family. It was an event that was filled with a lot of love, and a lot of fun. What I love about them most is that life is never dull.
In their every day conversation, yelling is commonplace, which took quite a bit of getting used to for me. I would think to myself, why do they get angry so quickly? Why can’t they keep their cool? It took me a while to learn that it wasn’t anger, it was passion.
Around the holiday table, yelling is a guarantee. Heated debates are eagerly anticipated and it isn’t long before the exuberant hand gestures and rising volumes run rampant. To an outsider, it can feel uncomfortable. But for them, it is simply excitement.
Early on in our marriage, my husband and I used to bicker often. We were learning each other, how to communicate, but most importantly how to argue. During our fights in the first few years, as soon as things got heated, he’d start raising his voice. I’d immediately feel hurt. Why did he get so mad so quickly? I didn’t deserve to be yelled at. But what I learned after a while was that he didn’t know any other way. Shouting was practically in his DNA. In his mind, he wasn’t yelling at me, he just cared a lot about what he was saying.
I still joke that fighting with him is like fighting with a freight train. Move out of the way or get plowed over! It was such the antithesis of how I was used to communicating. I’d want to sit down and have a civilized conversation and discuss our issues. But try as I might, it would never end up that way.
Until one of our arguments, we had an epiphany. Lord knows what we were arguing about (clearly nothing important). I got so frustrated I shouted back at him. I said, “Please don’t speak to me like this! Think about what your saying before you yell it at me!” He answered back, “But you’re my wife! I should be able to say whatever I want to you!” I simply replied, “Then be prepared for my feelings to be hurt.”
You’d better believe I took advantage of that silence, so I continued, “I don’t respond well to people raising their voice at me. You may not think you’re yelling, but to me you are. Try and speak to me a in a nicer way. The second you raise your voice, I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”
He heard me loud and clear. But he did tell me that not everyone sits down and has these civilized conversations. He thought it was good to yell, it shows you care about what you’re saying. Clearly we needed to meet somewhere in the middle and I had some adjusting to do as well.
Fast forward several years later, and we hardly ever fight. Over time, and lots of trial and error, we’ve learned to communicate effectively. Also, when to hang on to an issue and when to simply let it go.
Being a natural born communicator and “calm-talker-outer” the most important thing I’ve learned is that not everyone communicates the same way. Anticipating that someone will have the same reaction we would to a situation sets us up for miscommunication.
When someone isn’t receiving your point well or not responding in the way you’d like, the first element to consider is your delivery. Know your audience and adjust accordingly. Successful communication is both an art and well-practiced science. The more conscious practice you have, the more your ideas will be well received the first time.
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