It might be easier if it were the case, but relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist between two people who carry into the relationship their experiences, history, emotions, and expectations.
Any time you have two people, you also have different levels of artistry when it comes to communication. The good news though, is that better communication—simply because it is a skill—can be learned.
People I regularly work with make the incorrect assumption that because you talk to your partner, it means you are communicating with them. And yes, talking is truly a form of communication if it is mostly about surface topics, but you aren’t really communicating about the big stuff, the important stuff. So I thought I would devote some writing time to the subject of how to talk in a more open and constructive manner so you can see how rewarding the change can be with your partner, or even your fellow workers.
Communication can be either the fertilizer or the poison in most relationships. You can feed your relationship, right this very minute, if you put into practice some of the tips I will discuss here. So here goes… and like my mom used to say:
Take a breath and listen
I know that you have all heard this before about communication and communication skills. And we all know it is much harder to do in the moment than it might seem. When you are belly-deep in an important discussion, or argument with your partner, it can be really hard to put aside your point…for even a moment…and just listen. How often are you so afraid of not being heard that you just rush on babbling like the village idiot? When you do that, it pretty much guarantees that you won’t be heard. So take a breath and listen.
Force yourself to actually hear
Ok good, you have stopped talking, but your head is just wild with all the things you WANT to say. What that means is that you aren’t really hearing what is being said to you. You are too focused on what you want to say to hear anything. Laugh all you like but you know it’s true. As a coach, I have a technique that forces me to listen (yes, it happens to me too). I rephrase what I have just been told (it’s called reflection) and see if what I heard is what the client intended for me to hear.
I am not suggesting you become a bore with this technique, or use a tone that tells your partner that you are just mocking them and what they said. Use the technique delicately, and let your partner know what and why you are doing it, should they ask. You can try something like this:
“There are times when I don’t think I get what you are telling me. When I do this, it forces my mind to slow down and concentrate on what you are trying to say. It also gives us both the chance to see if I heard you correctly.”
Open and honest, even when it is difficult
It likely won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but some people have never in their life been particularly open with anyone. They really don’t know themselves or their own personal desires and needs. That being said, to be in a relationship is to take a step in the direction of opening up your life to another person, for good or not so good.
Keeping your emotions under wraps might work for you, but I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t work for anyone else in your life. It is an axiom that little falsehoods grow into big ones. Just pretending that all is well doesn’t make it so. Offering the silent treatment to your partner is about as good as offering a bird a brick. You still say it worked well for you in the past, but it is an impediment to quality communication. Period.
When you are open, you are willing to talk about things that you might never have discussed with anyone in your life. It takes trust and it takes vulnerability. And when you enter that arena, you had best enter it completely and unashamed. It will mean opening yourself up to possible hurt. You might even find some real disappointment in the process, but that being said, you also open yourself up for the opportunity to discover what a good relationship can be like.
Look for the nonverbal cues
Maybe it is you, or their body language. Most communication isn’t in what you say but rather how you say it. It is your body language, your tone, your inflection, your willingness or not to have eye contact, the distance you are away from the other person and more. Learning to be better at communication means learning both to read in others and manage your own cues. It takes time, but the more you do it, the better you will get at it. Yes, it takes time and practice but over time, you will learn to recognize things like this:
- If they are feeling closed off or defensive, they will likely close their arms in front of them
- Shame, lack of interest, or sometimes fear, can show up as lack of eye contact
- Loud and aggressive tones suggest that the person is becoming too emotionally involved. It might also mean they feel like they aren’t being heard
- Turning away when talking suggests disinterest or being closed off.
And while you are working on learning the non-verbal cues of your partner, notice your own; they do. Try and maintain eye contact, keep a pleasantly neutral body position, and a balanced tone in your voice. See what that does for you in your next conversation. And one more thing; try sitting next to the person you are talking with. It changes things.
Focus on the NOW
We have all had discussions that turned into arguments, then those grow into open battles about everything in life and the relationship. As a way of showing respect for your partner, try to keeping the discussion focused on the topic at hand is important. I know it can be easy to throw those cheap shots (that’s why they call them cheap), but just refrain from doing it. Like Nancy Regan once said, ”just say no.” If you are arguing about who picks up the kids, or does the laundry, please stick to the topic of the moment. It sounds simple but it is so true. Don’t run off the rails and bring up who cooks dinner the most, loves the in-laws more, or who cleans the toilet. Just don’t.
When those kinds of things happen, the discussion will escalate into something neither of you planned, and it can grow larger than you can imagine. One of you needs to learn to de-escalate, call for a truce, even if it means just walking away for a while. Be as respectful as you can manage and say something like “Look, I see this isn’t getting us anywhere. Let’s give it a rest tonight and talk about it in the morning, ok?”
When you de-escalate, you do both of you a favor. It is like I said in the third paragraph of this article: communication can be either the fertilizer or the poison in most relationships. You can feed your relationship, right this very minute, if you put into practice some of the tips.
So what are you waiting for?
If you need any help with the communication in your life, give me a call and let’s talk. I would love to hear what’s going on in your life.
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