Communication Skills: The Basics
(Welcome to a new series on “Communication Skills” that I will be posting periodically which will highlight one or two basic skills that are helpful in improving our relationships. Each one will give you a “homework assignment” to work on. Then I hope you will share your experience with our readers)
Why is good communication so difficult? Why is it so hard to discuss certain subjects with my partner? Why can’t my husband understand me? Why do we argue so much? Why can’t I get my wife to open up?
These questions can haunt a good relationship for many years. When couples do come in for help, “communication” is often their number one concern. They don’t have enough of it and when they do finally talk, they are both frustrated.
Why is it so easy to get defensive? When your partner points out something about you that is uncomfortable, it seems so natural to pick out something that bothers you about her. It’s hard to hear another person’s complaints about ourselves. It tends to evoke our complaints about them. This kind of “tit for tat” usually goes nowhere.
Effective communication is a skill. It’s not necessarily wired into our brains. We learn how to communicate to loved ones from our parents, who probably learned it from their parents. The net effect—communication dysfunction gets handed down from generation to generation!
Furthermore, I haven’t heard of too many communication skills classes offered in elementary school, high school, or college. Yet, it is really one of the critical components for happiness and success, both at home and at work.
Also, some communication skills are misunderstood and misused. Sarah learned to use “I” statements when she talks to her partner, Mary. She starts off the conversation one evening—“I think you can be the biggest idiot I have every met!” When Mary reacts, Sarah stops her in mid-sentence—“Hey, I used an I statement! I am just telling you how I feel!” Hmm…talking about your feelings and character assassination are not the same thing.
So here are some of the basics:
When both partners try to make the other person understand their point of view, no one is listening. When both partners seek to understand the other person, both people feel understood. So often, we are working hard to be understood by the other person. It is so important in any relationship to feel that the other person understands your point of view. Yet, we go about the wrong way.
When your partner brings up something she wants to share, work hard to understand what she is feeling. Ask questions! What do you mean? Could you give me some examples? When does this happen? What would you like me to do differently? Why is this important to you? The answers to these questions will help you understand her point of view. When she feels understood, she will want to understand your perspective. When both people are working overtime to understand each other, both people feel understood. It is much easier to find common ground. Sounds pretty simple, right? But why is this so hard?
Try not to react to the other person’s statements. Ooh that is so hard! When Jill tells her husband Bob that she needs more help from him around the house, he wants to jump in and describe all the things that he does! How do you think that makes Jill feel? When Bob tells Jill how he feels about her lack of affection, she wants to tell him what a slob he is! Inhibit your reaction. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. And then try to understand your partner’s point of view. You will like how things turn out.
So readers lets give this a try. When you find yourself reacting to your partner, co-worker, boss, or friend step back and try to find out what they are feeling, thinking, and experiencing. Work hard to understand them rather than trying to get them to understand you.
See what happens! And then share your experiences with the Family Talk community.