Mastering the art of communicating will be a skill we work on for a lifetime. Many people are baffled by communication patterns because they believe they communicate well. The reality is that we all communicate well and we all communicate poorly. We are human which means we are imperfect which means we will have up's and down's in each category in our life, especially communication.
There are some basic tools that are needed for communication which can go a long way in our relationships.
1.) I feel "x" when you do "y" statements.
I teach all the individuals I work with in my office this skill at some point during our work together whether its for couples counseling or individual counseling. When we are communicating our needs, our thoughts, our wants, we need to start with ownership by saying "I feel, I want, I need, I think, etc." Taking ownership starts the conversation off in a better way.
Think back to your last conversation that went poorly. What do you remember? When I think back to mine, I was utilizing a lot of "you do, you feel, you need, you want" statements. I did not take ownership of my statement and the other individual was more defensive to my statements because I was calling them out or assuming what they needed/wanted. This is why I encourage people to practice I feel "x" when you do "y" statements.
Example: Needing help with dishes.
Do NOT start by saying: "You need to help me with the dishes." Yes, it may be true that the other person needs to help you more, but most of us do not enjoy being demanded to do something.
DO start by saying: "I need your help with the dishes. It would help me a lot." The other person is going to hear this better versus the demand.
2.) Active and Reflective Listening
Active listening is listening with the intent of attempting to understand what the other is saying. The active listener is practicing being mindful to what is being shared and decreases distractions. Reflective listening is where you take what you heard/understand while you were active listening and share it with the speaker to seek input on whether you understood what they shared.
Often times we do not actively or reflectively listen. We often say we are listening, but are actually coming up with our response while the other is talking. This where communication can become confusing or take a turn for the worse. When you actively listen, you listen to what the other is saying. Yes, you may have thoughts or ideas that come up, but you continue to focus on the speaker. As you reflect back, the speaker can acknowledge you either understood what they said or provide more detail if they do not believe you understand it yet. Once the speaker states you understand them, then you respond with your thoughts or what you want to say.
How many of you love to solve problems? When we find ourselves in conversation, it's easy to jump into the role of solving the issue or giving advice on what the other person is sharing. Sometimes that is needed, but it's not a place I encourage you to start.
What most people want is validation or affirmation. They want to feel valid or affirmed for how they may feel, how they may think, or what they may need. When you can start by validating them or affirming them, it can help build trust. You can then ask what they need or want from you in regards to what they are sharing. They may want advice or they may be grateful for the space you gave them to be heard.
Example: Difficulty with the boss at work.
Partner 1: "I'm really struggling with how my boss speaks to me. It's demeaning and they do not listen to me."
Partner 2: (this is what NOT to do) "You need to stand up for yourself and put them in their place. No one deserves to be treated like that. You need to go in there and demand they listen to you."
Instead, partner 2 can respond like this: "That sounds really difficult. You deserve to be listened to. How can I help you with this or what do you need at work?"
They can both sound similar, but one is validating and affirming before problem-solving.
What's been the most helpful communication skill you have learned from your life? If you have been struggling with communication with your partner and want to make a change, reach out for a free 20-minute phone consultation and learn how we can work together.