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Effective Communication: Talk to vs. Talk at

Updated on February 8, 2015
When someone is talking at you their aggressive speak may as well be a jabbing finger in your chest.
When someone is talking at you their aggressive speak may as well be a jabbing finger in your chest.

What is bullying?

Defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior which involves a real or perceived power imbalance. This behavior has the potential of being repeated over time and includes such action as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Talk to vs. Talk at

We have all been through conversations where there seems to be a free-flow of conversation. One person speaks while the other listens and then you switch. It is a respectful, compatible meld of thought and idea between two people. One doesn't have to agree with the other but there is mutual respect for each other: to listen, process, and accept or reject what the other has to say. You actually talk to each other.

Then there are conversations where one feels like a verbal punching bag. Every pointed phrase feels like a big, stern, accusing finger poking you straight in the chest.

"You should do it this way." - POKE
"You never listen to me." - POKE
"You don't know what you're talking about." - JAB

Question: How in the world do they know what's going on in your head?
Answer: They don't.

Being talked at is a non-physical form of bullying; aggressive and psychologically damaging.

The effects of bullying

Bullying has always existed. In a sense it it almost a rite of passage from childhood through adulthood. There will always be someone who thinks they are better, stronger, or entitled to behave the way they do. There will always be someone who allows it to happen to them, just as there will be a witness to the event. Perhaps you know someone who is both the bully and the bullied?

The sad truth is everyone is affected, whether you are the bully, the one being bullied, or the witness to bullying.


I always felt like I wasn't good enough for my mother. There was some kind of competition between us that I was never quite privy to and quite the unwilling participant of. As a child I learned from both of my parents that a "child should be seen and not heard."

Later on, around the age of 15, I realized that I had a voice. Somewhere in my experiences I found it - but it never seemed to apply at home.

When would I stop being the child seen and not heard?


Have you ever been bullied?

See results

The bully

  • Has significant social impact
  • Generally comes from a dysfunctional family
  • Can have or develop deviant behavior
  • Higher risk of increased offenses
  • Great manipulators

The bullied

  • Generally withdrawn, shy, or socially inadequate
  • Physically weaker
  • Little to no social impact
  • Greater chance of emotional, physical, or psychological issues
  • Work or academics adversely affected
  • Anxiety or Depression

The witness

  • Anxiety or Depression
  • Feelings of helplessness or ineffectiveness

Transforming one's self - my personal journey

Einstein once said insanity is: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I'm not one to weep about my childhood or blame my parents for the person I am today. I don't want to fix the "inner child." That child has grown to forgive the past and strive toward a healthy, happy future. Self-reflection and looking objectively at my life was the beginning of my transformation.

There is no guide book to parenthood. As the first child, I was as much an experiment to my parents as I am with life. The child is to be seen and not heard. I was on a hamster wheel of what I thought was expected of me - and I grew up thinking my opinion didn't count.

As a shy and awkward child entering school - fat, no social skills, no coordination for sports, and no voice, I never fit in - and I was a prime candidate for verbal barbs. I was never physically abused by my peers but my imagined self-esteem screamed, "Et tu, Brute?" while pulling mythical daggers from my soul.

Sometimes I would wonder, "How am I still alive if my soul bleeds so much?"

Who was I to question my treatment?

And then it happened...

In the middle of tenth grade my parents said we were moving. We were switching schools and we had two weeks to get used to the idea. Voila! New beginning and I would never see these people again.

I would never see these people again!

And then another eureka moment: Do I really care what they think of me if I never see them again? And another: New school, new people (probably just as mean). Can I survive until I graduate and never see them again? If so, do I really care what they think of me?

I realized I did not care what they thought of me because only I could appreciate the real me.

One simple phrase: "I would never see these people again" became the birth of my self-esteem.


Enough is enough

I had become comfortable enough in my own skin to get on with life: married, children, job, home and car. In my imagination my parents were always ten feet tall - big and foreboding. Every visit brought more verbal attacks.

You shouldn't yell at my grandchildren.
You are too strict.
You're doing it wrong.
Et cetera, et cetera and always you, You, YOU.

Enough is enough. Let them spew and point their verbal fingers. You love them. Perhaps you feel you must. You do not have to LIKE them or what they say.

And then the kitten learned to roar

As I quietly listened to her suggestions, comments, and berating, my heart pounded with a mix of fear and excitement. Today is the day I stand up for myself - but how?

I waited until she was done spewing. If I defended myself or disagreed it would start all over again, like a cat with a fat, squeaky mouse. Waiting to pounce she waited for me to say something. And I did.

"I've heard what you had to say. Now say something nice to me."

Dumbfounded and confused she tried to brush me off.

My heart pounded harder. There will never be another opportunity. Do not let this go.

"I've heard what you had to say. Now say something nice to me."


Then more silence except for the beating of my heart.



  1. the imparting or exchanging of information or news.
    synonyms: transmission, conveyance, disclosure
  2. means of connection between people or places, in particular.

And suddenly...

Grudgingly and oh so quietly she said, "I love you."

It was the beginning of a newer, healthier relationship and communication stream.

How do you argue?

Do you fight fair when you argue or do you find fault with the other person to get leverage on your point?

a. Stop being angry.

b. Well you did it last time and weren't angry.

c. I do not understand why you are angry.

"Stop being angry." This is a demand. Neither one of you are mind readers so don't assume the matter is over and dismiss each other. You know what they say about ASSUME, right?

"Well you did the same thing and didn't get angry." This phrase or any derivative of it deflects blame from one's self and projects it onto the other person. It's not fair to bring up the past when you are dealing with the now.

"I do not understand why you are angry." Acknowledging there is an issue, then stopping to listen goes a long way in forging healthy communication. By saying, "I do not understand" one takes ownership and communicates their point of view.


Don't take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering. ~ Miguel Angel Ruiz


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    • parwatisingari profile image

      parwatisingari 3 years ago from India

      Thanks merejoo, Know something our equation is slowly shifting I am becoming the care giver, that is both scary and sad.

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 3 years ago from London

      I will try to take your advice! Thank you.

    • merej99 profile image

      Meredith Loughran 3 years ago from Florida

      @parwatisingari @Eiddwen @Moon Daisy and @Denise.W.Anderson - thank you for reading my hub. That experience with my mother was probably the HARDEST things I ever did - but it prompted an AMAZING transformation in our relationship. We always ended on a positive note and felt good about parting ways. It took practice to keep up with it, but I use this on everybody now...and I practice what I preach. With every critique there is a little love and support thrown in. Have a great day!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I love it! How to diffuse a bully in just thirteen simple words..."I've heard what you had to say. Now say something nice to me." What courage and strength it must have taken, and you did it! Wow! Thanks for the great example!

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 3 years ago from London

      Wow, this hub came to me at the right time! (It happens quite a lot that people will write something just when I need it, and I am grateful for that). I'm in this exact situation at the moment and after putting up with it for a long time, recently I finally cracked.

      "I've heard what you had to say. Now say something nice to me." I love this way of dealing with this sort of bullying. Thank you.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      A great hub and voted up for sure.

      Enjoy your day and I look forward to many more by you.


    • parwatisingari profile image

      parwatisingari 3 years ago from India

      Thanks some I desperately needed.