“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” – Tony Robbins
Our relationships with others are one of the most significant and influential aspects of our existence as humans. We rely on the people we are in relationship with to meet a great number of our needs, yet we often have a very hard time expressing these needs or being able to hear the needs of others. There are many times in relationships when it feels as though we aren’t even speaking the same language due to the frequent misunderstandings and failed attempts to get our point across. This can be incredibly frustrating and can lead to arguments, hurt feelings, and even the loss of important relationships. While it is not possible to control the way that others communicate with us, it is possible to improve our own communication skills in order to be more clear with the messages that we are sending, as well as to be more attentive and understanding with the messages that others are sending us.
Communication can be very difficult and complex, but quite honestly, it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few ideas to consider when working to improve your communication skills:
- Listen to understand: The first, and debatably most important, skill that must be mastered for successful communication is to actually listen to what others are saying. Many times, we are listening to the other person to prepare a compelling argument of why their point is wrong and ours is right. This is a common mishap in communication because it prevents us from truly hearing the other person’s perspective, and therefore will almost always lead to misunderstandings.
- Assume positive intent: Another frequent concern in communication is quickly becoming defensive and assuming the other person is attacking us or dismissing our experience. Yes, this is certainly possible, but if we go into every hard conversation assuming we are being attacked, this will almost immediately lead to an argument. Instead, assume the other person has positive intentions and is genuinely working towards a resolution.
- Use validation and reflective statements: When another person has taken the time to share something that matters to them, it is crucial that it is appropriately acknowledged. One very effective method of doing this is by using a reflective statement and validating how the other person is feeling. For example, if a friend shares with you that they were hurt they were not invited out with you and your other friends the night before, it will make the situation much worse to reply with something like, “oh my gosh, it was not even a big deal, we were only gone for like an hour” versus “Your feelings were hurt because you felt left out. I can understand why you would feel that way.”
- Use “I” statements: One of the most constructive ways of sharing our experience with others, including expressing needs or hurt feelings, is to start the sentence with “I” versus “you.” This method of delivery often decreases the other person’s tendency to get defensive, as it is a less accusatory statement. For example, “I am hurt when I don’t receive a reply to my text” versus “you never text me back.”
- Be clear and direct: It can be very easy to use passive aggressive remarks in communication because we might feel nervous or uncomfortable to express how we are really feeling. For example, if we feel left out, we might say something like, “Guess you don’t like me anymore. Haha. Just kidding!” versus “I felt left out when you guys went to the mall without me.”
Effective communication can be really hard! It can be difficult to express ourselves openly and honestly out of fear of being dismissed or misunderstood. However, choosing not to communicate because of this fear is much more likely to lead to relational damage and the loss of significant relationships. It is crucial to be willing to challenge your own perspective when communicating with others and be willing to consider other ways to view the situation. It is also helpful to ensure that we are seeking to understand others’ experiences when they are attempting to communicate with us, and not just assuming we know what is going on or what they are trying to express. Healthy and clear communication can be a total game changer when it comes to the quality and well-being of our relationships.
Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owns a private practice, Evolve Counseling, in Gilbert, Arizona. She specializes in various areas, including depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, and personal improvement. In addition to providing therapeutic services, Elizabeth also teaches Behavioral Health courses for Grand Canyon University.