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This is part 5 of 5 in my series on communication.
Part 1 – Learning to Communicate: 12 Tips
Part 2 – Communication Basics
Part 3 – Common Communication Breakdowns
Part 4 – The Art of Relaxed Conversation
Every day I observe the difficulties people have in communicating with one another.
We struggle to listen with the purpose of understanding.
We jump to conclusions instead of getting the whole picture.
We often don’t consider what may be happening in the other person’s life that might make it difficult for them to ask for what they want or need or share what they are experiencing.
We all struggle to understand where the other person is coming from and to share our own needs and wants.
- How do I ask without demanding?
- Can I share my thoughts and emotions without blaming or accusation?
- And even more important, How can I really listen?
We communicate in some way every day with words, a look, a touch of the hand, a gesture or by our posture or even by our silence. Sometimes it is through notes we write or quick texts on our phone.
The difficulties we see in marriages, intimate relationships, and families often revolve around this inability to communicate adequately and accurately. Knowing ahead of time what creates these breakdowns can help us avoid them.
Too often breakdowns occur because we are not really listening.
What are you saying and what is being heard?
As I was reviewing my notes on relationships, I came across five important communication reminders for parents.
But they’re not just for parents communicating with their children. They’re also for couples who struggle to share and better understand each other.
These communication guidelines are for anyone who wants to have better relationships.
1. Listen – really listen.
That isn’t as easy as it sounds because as soon as we hear something we begin immediately responding.
As difficult as it might seem, stop before you respond. Take a moment and just be quiet. Before expressing your views or oppositions or even agreements, take time to consider what was said.
If passionate emotions are involved, validate the feelings of the speaker. Do not judge, or criticize, or come up with answers to someone’s problem. But acknowledge them.
Pay attention to what is actually being said or what the other person is trying to say.
Can you listen from the other’s point of view? Don’t think about what you want to say in response and don’t interrupt. Give the other person time to compose their thoughts.
If you need to clarify, ask appropriate questions to help you understand. “What I hear you saying is… Is that correct?”
Be completely present in the moment. Don’t bring up the past or attack with your own list of complaints or criticisms.
Instead, focus on the other person’s message. Remember that silence can sometimes be the most effective and helpful tool a listener has.
2. Don’t criticize or judge.
We often dismiss what our kids or spouses are trying to tell us when they talk about the struggles they are having. Even if it doesn’t sound important to you, it is to your child or significant other or colleague.
Some of what is said can trigger an instantaneous response from us; we have the solution and if they just did things the way we would, they wouldn’t have this problem.
But that infers that you are smarter and the other is stupid. Judging anyone places you in a superior position.
We can have an opinion about behaviors and actions, but we do not always know the heart of someone who is struggling, even if we’re living in the same household.
You can support and confirm the other’s ability to problem-solve by validating their feelings. Use words such as, “I didn’t realize such things bothered you.”
This opens the door to communication rather than slamming it shut. You can encourage them to express what is happening because often our emotions and thinking get jumbled up. We don’t have to agree but can be respectful.
3. Talk from the heart.
When someone uses heart talk with you – the language of feelings and emotions – don’t respond intellectually with head-talk.
It diminishes the other person’s feelings, and they often will not talk about them again.
Confirm and authenticate their journey using phrases such as, “This must be hard for you.”
4. Don’t assume.
We hold preconceived notions about the people we live with and work with. These can hamper communication.
Don’t assume that you know another person’s thoughts or feelings. Find out.
That is also true for our significant others. We don’t know everything. We make assumptions that may or may not be true.
Repeat what was said, and then add, “Is this what you meant?”
5. Show your love.
Actions can be as important as words – oftentimes more important.
Marriage is an extremely complex institution. It takes courage, determination, and resiliency to maintain a long-lasting relationship. Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship and mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.
Couples who have this know each other intimately. They know each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express fondness in little ways day in and day out and have found ways to stay connected.
They maintain their friendship because it is the foundation of their love. Friendship fuels the flames of romance.
When dating our future mate, we want to be with that person as much as possible. We share our hopes and dreams, along with our past.
Somewhere along the way, however, people stop doing that after they are married. Instead of discovering more of each other, their focus is on all the problems they are experiencing. They forget to continue building that relationship that was so important. Without healthy and satisfying relationships life will be very difficult.
So, ask yourself, overall, is your communication bringing the results you want?
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