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Communication – The cornerstone of positive relationships
By Tony Lapointe comment One Comment

Communication – The cornerstone of positive relationships

At the heart of any lasting relationship is effective and positive communication. It is the cornerstone of any relationship and it can also be the downfall when done ineffectively.

We all tend to believe we understand what communication is or that we do it effectively enough. But its good to remind ourselves what effective communication is (and isn’t) and how we can apply these things to our relationships.

To begin with, we need to understand the process of communication. There are four essential elements of communication; sending information, receiving information, a medium (some way to send the information) and the message (what are we saying). When it comes to communication, it’s important to be aware that there are always two messages. The stated message and the implied message. The stated message are the words we use to convey our thought. The implied message is the non-verbal communication we use. Our posture, the look on our face, the tone of our voice, hand gestures and so much more. It is said that about 80% of communication is non-verbal or implied.

This concept is key in communication because people will always hear the implied message, they don’t always hear the stated message. This is often where conflict in relationships originates. For example, if I am facing you with an enthusiastic look on my face and say to you “Hello. I’m happy to see you” you will likely believe that I am genuinely happy to see you. My verbal and nonverbal communication say the same thing. However, if I was turned away from you, rolled my eyes and the tone of my voice drops when I say “Hello, I’m happy to see you,” you would hear a much different message.  So, in this example, you would respond by saying something like, “Why aren’t you happy to see me?” and I would respond “What?! I said I was happy to see you!”

In a way, we are both “right.” What you heard was accurate and what I said was accurate. The challenge is, we are speaking from different places. The goal of communication is to get on the same page, regardless of what the message really is. Once we understand the issue, then we can move toward finding solutions, but only when we understand what each other is saying.

So, here are some tips to healthy and effective communication.

Be mindful of barriers – Background noises, accents, language barriers, distractions, feelings about the topic, the party or ourselves, our mood, the language we use (like vulgar language or jargon) and many others. These barriers won’t make communication impossible, but it does make it challenging. So be mindful of those when communicating with your partner so you can be sure to work through them.

Actively Listen – This means listening to understand the other, not agree with them. Ask questions nondefensively (“can you help me understand…” or “can you tell me more about…”), clarifying what you’ve heard (“I’ve heard you say t… Is that accurate?”) and validating what you hear (“I can appreciate you feel…because of…”). Each of these will help both of you clarify the issue and understand one another.

Don’t interrupt – if you are truly trying to understand your partners perspective, be patient and let them say what they need to say. Interrupting will only communicate that you don’t have time for them or that their issue isn’t important.

Rehearsing – Anytime you articulate a response in your head before your partner has finished means you’re not listening to them; you’re only listening to yourself at that point. When you catch yourself doing this, let go of your response and refocus on your partner.

Use “I” statements – No one has the right to speak for me nor can they speak for you. Only you can communication how you feel, what your thoughts are or what your desires are. Using the words “you” or “we” blames the other party for what is happening, usually resulting in a defensive response. For example, when someone says “we need to…” they really mean to say “you need too…” When we speak from “I” then we are acknowledging we can only control ourselves and our responses. It is not our place to control the other.

Empathy – this may sound easy enough, but it is one of the most difficult things for people to do, especially men (no offense). In all of my counselling work, men (albeit straight men) have had a difficult time understanding and communicating emotion. Listening to the feelings expressed in your partner’s words and validating those are crucial to effective communication.

Avoid being argumentative – I’ve heard it said that I can either be right or I can be effective. It is common for partners to argue and disagree about the “facts” of something rather than focusing on the connection between them. Being argumentative prevents you from connecting to your partner and ultimately getting what you want. A healthy relationship. If you feel argumentative, take a short break and try to refocus on the topic at hand.

Here is a common exercise I give clients when communication is a challenge or they want to improve their listening skills. Set some time aside in the day or week (minimum 20 minutes but it can be more frequent or longer as you want). One person (Person A) gets to talk and the other (Person B) gets to listen. Person A gets 10 minutes to talk about whatever they want. Depending on the sensitivity of the issue I usually encourage couples to start with something not too sensitive for practice sake. When Person A is done, Person B gets to reflect back what they’ve heard. In this exercise, Person B can clarify and ask probing questions but cannot respond to Person A’s message. This process continues until Person A says “yes, you understand.” Once that happens, then Person B gets to do the talking and Person A listens until Person B says “yes, you understand.”

When the exercise is done, ask yourself some questions.

  • How does it feel to understand my partner?
  • How connected do you feel?
  • What was easy about this process for you? What was challenging?
  • How could you make this process more effective the next time? What skills do you need to learn to help you listen more effectively?

If you continue to work through this process, you will learn how to communicate effectively with your partner which will result in a deeper and richer experience with your partner and your relationship. We all know that relationships take work. Practicing the tools provided here will help protect your relationship from downfalls and reinforce the foundation of a strong and lasting partnership.

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  1. Great article Tony! Thank you for posting this guide. Some of these are more difficult than others so I think I have some work to do 🙂