Do you believe the old saying that sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you? Why or why not? Words have tremendous power. They can make you feel good or make you feel bad. They can serve to inspire cooperation or to incite violence.
Start this group activity by talking about communication in general. Who is the person you most enjoy talking with? Why? What kinds of things do they say or words do they use? Who is the person you have the most trouble talking with? Why? What kinds of things do they say or words do they use? Who do you feel comfortable talking with about your problems? Why?
Effective communication that helps to solve problems includes: listening; summarizing what has been said to ensure you've understood correctly; trying to take the other person's perspective; asking questions to get all the relevant information; and speaking respectfully.
One of the keys in speaking respectfully is using "magic words." Magic words usually have the word "I" in them. When you use the word "I" you take ownership and responsibility for what's being said. You don't blame someone or something else, but try to honestly share your perspective on a situation.
The ultimate magic words are, "I'm sorry." When you say them sincerely, they're almost guaranteed to help resolve a conflict. You admit that you may be in the wrong or that you feel badly about what has happened. Another important phrase is, "I feel." There's a big difference between saying "I feel very disappointed when someone lies to me" versus "You lied to me." A "you" message puts the emphasis on the person and on blaming. Instead, focus on the problem and on solutions. An "I" message lets you talk about and own your own feelings, and give a reason for your feelings, which helps another person understand your perspective.
A three-part message structure that's effective: 1) I feel (describe your feelings -- furious, disappointed, upset, etc.)... 2) when (describe behavior or what happened)... 3) because (why it upsets you; the effects)... The message can also be effective when you add on what you would like: "I would like (what you would like to happen or change)..."
The word "you" is like sandpaper. Some words are abrasive and rough. They can hurt and make people react defensively. When you use the word "I," it's like soft, furry fabric -- pleasant and something people are more open to (i.e. people like to touch it). There's an old proverb, "Soft words win hard hearts."
Make up some conflict situations: someone has stolen your pen; your brother has broken your favorite toy; a friend took credit for something you did; your mother didn't take you shopping like she promised she would. You can also use real personal examples from the group. Pass around the piece of sandpaper. Each person can say an example of a "you" message while feeling the sandpaper (e.g. you took my pen, you're wrong, you lied to me).
Then pass around the piece of furry fabric for everyone to feel. Each person can practice the three-part message: 1) I feel... 2) when... 3) because....