Healthy communication is the one critical ingredient that defines a relationship. Communication is vital and essential because it is the link to every aspect of your connections with others. The outcome of discussions and decisions that affect those around you will all depend on the quality of the communication styles, patterns and skills you’ve developed.
We often self-sabotage our communication by falling into one of five dangerous communication patterns. We engage in negative interpretation, i.e., seeing only the worst in someone else’s intentions or motivations. We engage in destructive criticism, where the goal is to attack a person’s character, intelligence, integrity and worth, rather than address an issue. We become defensive, and so we focus more on how we’re right and the other is wrong. We escalate disagreements by increasing the emotional or relational impact of our actions, i.e., we take the conversation to a place from which we can’t step back. Or we withdraw from or avoid uncomfortable situations.
Why Communication Matters
Many therapists will tell you that one of the greatest problems in relationships is miscommunication. Just because you’ve said something, it doesn’t mean that you’ve actually communicated what you’ve intended. When we engage in the communication patterns noted above, we create distrust and wariness in those around us, and that makes the conversations all the more complicated.
Let’s face a simple fact; none of us are mind readers. We often assume we know what other people are thinking, or we act as if we assume they know what we’re thinking. Communication is at the core of healthy relationships because it bypasses this assumption and strives for understanding.
Good communication makes expectations clear, and makes sure that people have a shared understanding of their relationship or situation. It’s not just about talking; it’s about understanding.
Increasing Your Communication Skills
- Pay attention to how you share your ideas both verbally and non-verbally. Try to do so in a way that your message can be accepted and understood.
- Remember that the “complete message” includes not just the words you choose, but also your tone of voice and non-verbal communication, like posture, facial expression and attitude.
- May your primary goal understanding the other person rather than being understood yourself. You can’t control what other people think, but you can manage your efforts to ensure that you’re accurately understanding someone else.
- Give other people the benefit of the doubt. What you think you heard might not be what was intended. So ask questions to ensure that you’ve got an accurate understanding of the other person’s intentions.
- Create a safe place for the other person to communicate. Make sure the other person feels comfortable opening up, and knows that you’re going to listen rather than attack.
- Be assertive in your communication. In its classic sense, being assertive means to stand up for yourself. This doesn’t mean that you get to be pushing or belligerent. But you have the responsibility to stand up for yourself and not let someone else dictate your responses.