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
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
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
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
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
How could you make this process more effective
the next time? What skills do you need to learn to help you listen more
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