Couples married for forty years still say that communication can often become a trouble spot in the relationship, yet communication is one of the most important aspects of a healthy one. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your communication and even stay on top of it so that it doesn’t devolve into something ineffectual. Here are five simple strategies for more effective communication.
- Observe but don’t interpret. We assign motives and unsaid thoughts to actions when we could be making a mistake. For example, we assume that because someone seems distracted or aloof that they are disinterested or uncaring. In reality, it could be that they are worried or anxious about something entirely unrelated.The best way to practice this step is to ask questions and maybe state the obvious without assigning any underlying motives to the observation. Instead of, “You obviously don’t want to be here,” you could say, “You seem a bit distracted.”
- Ask questions. Too often, people jump to making accusations instead of asking questions. We perceive something to be true and assume that it is without asking. When asking questions, work towards more specificity. Don’t be pushy – this can make people feel defensive, give space for them to answer and talk as much or as little as they’d like. Also don’t be afraid to ask more questions. Some people just want to know that you care, and one way of demonstrating your interest and stimulate communication is to ask questions.For example, if your partner states the facts of the day, you might ask how something made them feel. Sometimes you can get miles out of the phrase, “And then what happened?” Engage and be sincere in your desire to learn about them and their day.
- Actively listen. Most people have been guilty at some point in their lives of only passively listening, letting the other person’s words wash over them but not absorbing any meaning. Active listening engages the whole body and the mind to ensure that you are hearing and understanding what someone is saying.One way to practice this is to make sure that your whole body communicates that you are listening to your partner. Look them in the eye, position your body to face in their direction, remove distractions from your line of sight, and even restate some of what they’ve said if you need clarity.
- Know yourself. Effective communication will include addressing feelings and needs. However if you don’t understand who you are, what you value, and what you need, you won’t be able to effectively communicate this with your partner. You cannot expect them to read your mind, it’s one of the most dangerous pitfalls in communication.There are tools available to help you ask yourself questions and evaluate your thoughts, emotions, and needs. Additionally, there are tools to help increase your self-awareness so that you begin to understand how your interactions with others may impact their well-being and communication. A skilled counselor can also help you develop these tools, and they will serve you in every relationship you experience.
- Do life together. Shared experiences provide the basis for some of the most effective communication. Do the mundane together, or at the very least talk about it. Clean the house, make a meal, walk the dog, or run errands together. Time together will help build a foundation of trust and understanding, and it will prevent many misunderstandings about intentions and motives.
Communication requires diligence and frequent evaluation. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner how they feel about your communication and ways in which they think it could be improved. When necessary, be brave enough to ask for help from someone trained to ask questions – a licensed counselor. You won’t regret trying these simple steps for more effective communication.