Communication is at the core of our daily interactions. We may communicate well or poorly, but we cannot not communicate. Effective communication is essential to good relationships, and no problems can be solved without it. All of us know how quickly we can fall into ineffective communication patterns. This is especially easy when we are tired, stressed, or simply feel overwhelmed by life. In those situations, many of us use unproductive communication patterns such as sarcasm, being defensive, or using words that put the other person down.
But, what does good communication look like? Here are some effective communication strategies:
We often don’t realize how little we are listening to other people when they are speaking, especially our intimate partners. Instead we are often listening to our own internal response to what someone is saying. In order to communicate effectively, agreement is not necessary, but seeing the other person’s point of view is. Taking time to accurately understand what the other person is saying increases safety, deepens your connection, and makes moving ahead possible.
Avoid labels and loaded terms.
These words attack and undermine feelings of worth, conveying to the person that he or she is flawed. Examples of words not to use would be, “You are such a Mama’s boy”, “You have such a poor-me attitude” or “You are so childish”. Labels are generalized condemnations of a person’s identity that convey the message that this is a permanent attribute. Example of such condemning words would be, “You are stupid, crazy, lazy, selfish, evil…etc.” Instead, calmly describe the behaviour that has upset you, share how it impacted you, and let the other person know what changes you would like to see in the future.
Send clear messages.
The following is a useful formula for sending a clear and complete communication:
The “when” allows you to be specific about exactly which behaviour you want to talk about.
The “I feel” allows you to express what you are feeling when this behaviour occurs. No one can question your feelings, they are yours and always ok.
The “because” allows you to explain why you feel the way you do.
I WOULD LIKE…
The “I would like” allows you to make a clear and direct request and to express your needs. The other person now knows exactly what he or she may do to make you happy.
For example, instead of saying, “This sucks, I am fed up”, you could say, “When you arrive late without telling me, I feel angry and hurt because I don’t feel respected. In the future, I would like you to phone me if you are going to be late”. Not only will this allow you to communicate more effectively, but also when you tell the other person specifically how you would like him/her to behave in the future, you create the possibility of your specific needs being met. To be clear, the receiver is not obliged to respond to your request, but is provided an opportunity to do so. They may even be secretly relieved to discover what your needs are, and how they can meet them (they may have been wondering for ages).
Remember, in an intimate relationship only you can truly know your needs (hopes, wishes, and dreams), which means you are the best person to communicate that to your partner. Do not assume that your loved one intuitively knows what you would like to see happening between you… your partner is not clairvoyant 😉
Keep your voice as close as possible to your normal talking volume and keep your body language open and receptive.
Using a normal talking volume allows the other person to listen without being overwhelmed or getting his/her defenses up. You can show the other person that you are listening by keeping good eye contact, nodding while you are listening, keeping your arms uncrossed, leaning slightly forward if you are sitting, and keeping your face relaxed. Remember that your body speaks louder than your words. If your body language is not in sync with your words, your message will be confusing to the receiver.
Take responsibility for your message by using “I” statements.
Avoid statements that begin with “you”. Instead of saying, “You never let me spend time with my friends”, you can say, “I enjoy spending time with you, and I also want to spend time with my friends. I would like us to find time to talk about this”. Again, this will heighten chances that the receiver will be able to stay open and receptive to your message.
Work on one issue at a time.
Often people unload their whole arsenal of problems onto their partner at once. All the frustrations and disappointments that have accumulated over time get dumped in one sitting. This can easily overwhelm someone and may lead them to shut down. It is much more helpful to focus on solving one issue at a time, and once an acceptable solution has been found, to move on to the next one.
As we change how we communicate, new ways of expressing ourselves might initially feel artificial. However, with practice it will soon feel “normal”. After all, the old, dysfunctional patterns only feel “normal” because we have used them over and over again. With repetition, the new and more life-giving patterns will become easier and they will allow you to create a new level of intimacy and connectedness in the relationships that matter to you. These new skills will in turn greatly enrich your life.
Which of these tips will you put into practice? Do you have other tips for great communication? Leave us a comment below and let us know!
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