The Powerful Effect of XYZ Statements on Your Relationships
Part I | Part II
The other day as I was leaving work, I overheard a woman talking on the phone. She was standing at the front of the bus talking loudly to her mother who was apparently upset about some comments her daughter had made to her earlier. The woman pleaded into the phone, “Ma, I didn’t mean for it to sound that way! Please don’t get offended. Please don’t be mad at me. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Ma, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” This went on for about ten minutes while the rest of the passengers watched in sympathy. Finally, the conversation ended, and the woman turned to her friend and said, “She’s crying and getting all emotional. She just misunderstood me!”
You can probably relate, as you think of examples from your life. How often do you find yourself apologizing for a statement or comment that you made? Too often, what we say is not communicated well or heard effectively by the other side. Sometimes, we say things that can’t be taken back, and such negative interactions can overshadow all the positive ones in a relationship. Case in point: The girl on the bus had to apologize profusely for one statement she made that greatly upset her mother.
How many positives do you think it takes to balance one negative in a relationship?
The answer might surprise you.
Research studies actually reveal that in order to maintain a happy marriage, couples need to engage in 5 to 20 positive interactions for every negative one. (Gottman, 1993; Notarius and Markman, 1993)
One negative = five to twenty positives.
This magical equation is not just for couples. It can be applied in our relationships with family members, friends, classmates, colleagues, and others.
Two Needs in a Relationship
In any given relationship, we have two needs: to talk, and to be heard. We expect to be able to freely express how we feel. We also expect that both our positive and negative feelings will be heard and understood.
To maintain these positive interactions, it is important for us to share with others what we like and don’t like. Generally, we tend to share more of our negative feelings than we do our positive ones since we often focus on the negatives over the positives. We often tell others what we don’t like about them instead of what we do like.
It is not enough to be appreciative; we should express that appreciation. We all like to know that we’ve made someone else happy. When we‘re praised, it’s more likely that we will do it again. Most of us, however, rarely express to others what we like or appreciate about them. What would happen if we actually shared that with the people around us?
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ advised us to express and show appreciation and gratitude. He ﷺ said “The one who does not give thanks for a small blessing will not give thanks for a great blessing, and the one who does not give thanks to people will not give thanks to Allah.” (Abi ad-Dunya)
Make it part of your daily routine to praise something about your loved one: maybe when he cooks a delicious meal or when she‘s been awake all night caring for the baby. This will only increase the positives in your relationships and make it easier to move beyond the negatives.
It is also important to share our concerns instead of ignoring them. Putting aside our disappointment and anger doesn’t make them disappear. These feelings remain – brewing, festering, and waiting to explode during the next emotional spatter. We need to be able to share our concerns constructively, and to have the other side hear us without making assumptions about our intentions.
How Do You Communicate?
Take a minute to reflect.
- Think about one thing you appreciate or admire about your mother, father, sibling, spouse, child, friend, colleague, or others.
- Think about one thing you don’t like or is concerning to you.
How would you express it to them? Verbalize it. Is it easy to communicate? How might they react?
Formula for Success: The XYZ Statement
Developed by PREP*, the XYZ Statement is a simple formula that will have a powerful effect on your relationships. It’s a great way to ask for what you want and to encourage others to change because it includes information that can be implemented.
To communicate effectively, just follow this guideline the next time you want to express appreciation or share a concern:
- When you did X,
- Describe the specific behavior. What was the one thing he/she did?
(This implies change can happen.)
- In situation Y,
- Describe the specific situation or circumstances.
(It’s not everything that is a problem.)
- I felt Z.
- Tell how you felt or were affected.
(Own your reaction.)
Good Examples of XYZ Statements
When you made dinner (X) today (Y), I felt really special (Z).
When you ignored me (X) last night (Y), I felt hurt and disappointed (Z).
Thanks for babysitting the kids (XY). I feel so pampered (Z).
I felt so humiliated (Z) when you yelled at me (X) in front of your parents (Y).
When you showed up 15 minutes late (X) for our appointment with the imam (Y), I was very embarrassed (Z).
Bad Examples of XYS Statements
When you leave your dishes in the sink, I feel like you are a slob.
Slob is not a feeling; it’s name-calling. Instead of addressing the behavior that you dislike, you’re basically implying that it is part of their character and that they can’t change.
Alternative: It bothers me when you leave your dishes in the sink without washing them.
You never listen to me when I talk. You’re so inconsiderate.
Don’t over generalize and disregard the past. Using phrases such as “you always” or “you never” implies that the issue is so big that it can never change.
Alternative: When you watch TV while I’m talking, I don’t feel heard or understood.
When we went out to dinner today, I know you didn’t want to go anyways.
Don’t assume you know what the other person is thinking or intending. You fuel your own anger when you assume negative motives.
Alternative: When you hesitated, I wasn’t so sure that you wanted to go.
In the bad examples above, the focus is placed on others instead of on ourselves, making it more likely that we will receive an angry and defensive reaction. Let’s take responsibility and focus on ourselves first.
A Better Way
Remember your earlier statements? Change them now to XYZ Statements. Do you see a difference between your XYZ statements and the earlier ones? Is it easier to communicate? Will the reactions be different?
XYZ statements are more specific, and result in greater awareness about needs, wants, and desires. They emphasize our experiences and feelings. Most of us don’t like hearing something negative about ourselves, but XYZ Statements make it easier to raise concerns in a gentle, respectful, and honest way. When we know how certain behaviors affect others, we are more motivated to change and more likely to accumulate positives than negatives! Let’s work on increasing those positives!
This material was adapted from the leading divorce-prevention/marriage enhancement program called PREP© (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program), and the corresponding book 12 Hours to a Great Marriage by Markman and Stanley.