READER COMMUNICATION QUESTION: Meryl, would you recommend an appropriate response for me regarding "misconstruing" a tone of voice? After coming come from my job one evening, I asked my husband if he had a moment so I could show him something. He'd been watching TV and I was interrupting. He replied in a nasty tone: "What is it?"
I said in what I am sure was a neutral tone", "I don't appreciate your tone of voice. Let's talk when you can spare a moment". He said: "Don't start with me." I said: "I'm not starting anything. You started being rude".
He said: "Your the one with the problem. You misconstrued my tone".
BUT, he immediately jumped up from the sofa and came to see what I had to show him.
As you may have guessed, our communication history does not follow your positive guidelines. His constant retort when I assertively say, without blame, "I feel ____ when you ____" is: "That's your problem!".
MERYL RESPONDS: Did his tone express irritation? I don't know. But what if instead of insisting he started it by being rude, you said,
- You're right. I did take your tone to be nasty.
What if, when he said "don't start with me," you said,
- You're right - I don't want us to fight.
What if, when he told you you're the one with the problem, you said,
- You're right, and I'm asking for your support in dealing with it. Here's what I'd like... Could you do that for me?
What if you refused to get adversarial with this man whom you chose to spend your life with? If you got over any sense of needing to respond in kind when you don't like his tone, and to win - unless it's to win by being the first to get to the heart. If you did that, I think you'd bring out the best in him, and that would be a real win for you.