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How to say you are upset in a smarter way?

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

How to say you are upset in a smarter way?

In my last blog post, I wrote about the need to express when we disagree or are upset about someone or a situation. This is so we don’t build up and explode like the volcano. When we express our problem, we also do not want to appear as bullies. Neither do we want to beat around the bush and be wishy washy.

In fact, I can think of my ex-colleague who would use more positive statements or encouragers before he finally spoke about his problem or disagreement. I don’t know if you feel the same, as I would be puzzled with where the conversation was going and when I finally realized he was trying to communicate his problem, I went “duh…” and I could visualize my eyes rolling. Why couldn’t he just go straight to the point?

So, how can we say we are upset in a smarter way?

I felt disrespected…

There was once I felt defeated by my client, a 10 year old child who turned up for the session and refused to enter the room. Even as the teacher tried to coax her, and I stood by the door asking her to get her foot in, she simply refused. Instead, she stood outside the door with her arms crossed and eyes rolling every now and then.


Yes, she pretty much looked like this.

I went back home, feeling pretty bumped.

And I was determined to tell her I deserve the respect.

As expected, in the next session, the child did not want to enter the room again. So, I took my chance to express my problem. And then I looked at her, waited while matching her posture (arms crossed) and saw her facial expressions soften, and so did I.

She then told me about her problem and together, we spent a few minutes to brainstorm our agreed solution.

3 steps to say you are upset in a smarter way

So, if you know that you are upset with someone or situation, you own a problem. Remember, the other person may or may not have this problem at all. And, you will not know until you express it.

And, this is my 3 steps to say I am upset in a smarter way.

Step #1 – Express your problem using “I” message

Many of you may have heard about “I” message. But what many may not notice is how the message should be drafted. Often, we may use words that the other person can perceive the meaning differently or disagree with. Hence, it is important we use language that illustrates the actual concrete facts of the behavior.

Using my earlier example, I could respond with:

“When you stood by the door so angrily and refused to enter the room, I feel disrespected.”

If I had done so, my client could disagree and said that she was not angry. My I-message would then go down the drain!

A better way to respond would be:

“When you stood by the door with your arms folded and did not enter the room, I feel disrespected.”

As you can see, my client would not be able to argue with the fact that:

  1. She did have her arms folded

  2. She did not enter the room

  3. And she also cannot argue with my feelings!

Step #2 – Reflective Listen

Once you have expressed your i-message, you reflectively listen to the other person’s response until you get a signal from them that they feel “understood”. You may need to restate your i-message. Remember, you may alter your i-message but do not change the meaning of your i-message.

Step #3 – All good, or Problem-Solve.

If the other person didn’t realize you had a problem, and they agree to change, then you are all good!

But, very often, the other person may have a conflict of needs i.e. the person also has a problem! For instance, when I delivered my i-message to my client, she responded that she wanted to know when she could be done with the coaching sessions. In her mind, she already accomplished what she wanted. Now that I also know her problem, we then discussed how we can achieve both our needs.

And in some other times, the other person may have a conflict of values i.e. the person does not really care about your problem!

Depending on whether it is a conflict of needs or value, we would tackle the problem solving differently. I’ll share more in future posts!

A few tips…

By the way, a few tips to bear in mind even when you are expressing you are upset…

  1. Always know the outcome you want to achieve before you communicate. If you are experiencing multiple feelings, ask yourself first, what exactly are you upset about? It is important to regulate your emotions before you deliver your message.

  2. Rapport is still key. Remember, even when we disagree, we still want to establish rapport with the person, hence the reflective listening is essential. Match the person’s gestures, posture, voice speed or tone, etc.

  3. Always check your i-message that it is non-arguable!

“Communication is only effective when we communicate in a way that is meaningful to the recipient, not ourselves.”
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