10 RULES FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
One of the things we often see in our offices are couples and individuals wanting to work on their communication skills. We can easily identify when communicating is a problem in our relationships. However, it’s not always quite so easy to learn and implement the skills that can be really helpful.
WHY ARE LEARNING COMMUNICATION SKILLS HELPFUL?
As humans, we rely on verbal and nonverbal communication to connect with other people. The way we learn how to communicate comes from several different arenas in our lives. And, probably the most impactful are the relationships we learn from at home when we’re little.
Think of it this way: while you were learning how to speak, you were also learning the rules and norms of the world you’re part of. It varies! We all learn how to do this human stuff differently! This is probably one of the reasons we often find ourselves not quite understanding why the people in our lives would do what they do.
For example, we might have learned to communicate our needs to someone we love by falling silent, expecting them to dig and do the work to find out what’s needed. Sure, that might eventually get those important needs met. And it might also be really frustrating for everyone involved! If a misunderstanding becomes an argument or fight, see our 10 Rules For Fighting Fair in Relationships.
Because we learn so much about communication before we can even speak, it makes sense that this is the realm of improvement with which many people identify. The patterns, habits, and beliefs about how we ask for what we need go deep! Switching it up can feel overwhelming, challenging, or hard. It can also be liberating and help us find the deep and meaningful connections we so deserve. To make it easy, here is a list of 10 Rules for Effective Communication:
LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND
It can be very easy when we’re having conversations with other people to tune out of what they’re saying in order to prepare our response. When we do this, not only are tuning out from the person speaking, we might also miss really important information! Listen to understand what the other person is saying. If you need time to think of a response, wait until they’ve finished speaking and ask for it. Make room for everyone at the table to be heard and understood. Including yourself.
EMPATHY, EMPATHY, EMPATHY
Remember that we are all showing up as much as we can in any given situation. Sometimes, we have 100% of ourselves to give. Sometimes we just don’t. Allow space for the people in our lives to be fully human, just as you are. Refrain from offering advice unless asked, don’t belittle or undermine someone’s feelings, and have your solid, firm, and flexible boundaries in place. Learn some more about empathy in this great little video from Brené Brown.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOU
You’re responsible for your feelings. When someone says or does something that is hurtful, we might get defensive and blame all of our yucky feelings on them. While some of that might be truthful, it often isn’t. Think of it like this, what another person says might not be the cause of an emotion, but the trigger for one. The event can bring up lots of feelings in the moment that have happened in our lives a long time ago.
We’re ultimately in the driver’s seat of our life experiences. By owning our part in a conversation, we give space for the other person to do it, too. For example, saying something like, “I think you’re going to leave the first chance you get” might not get the same response from a partner as, “I’m feeling really vulnerable and not worth sticking around for.” It communicates the true emotional response and can help us get those needs met.
NOTICE YOUR BODY
A great portion of human communication is non-verbal. We have facial expressions, body postures, and very subtle ways of movement that are constantly communicating with other people. These things tell everyone around us a lot more about us than we think they do. By being aware of our body, we can avoid accidentally communicating something we don’t mean to.
When we make requests of another person, it’s incredibly helpful to be specific about it. What we mean when we say “I need you to show up for me” might be interpreted differently depending on who we’re talking to. Their definition of showing up might be very, very different from yours. So while they’re busy showing up in all of the ways they know how to, they might not be showing up in the way you need them to. Being specific in our requests means that the other person is far more likely to understand what you’re in need of.
CHECK YOUR INTENTIONS
What’s your intention in having a conversation with someone? What are you trying to understand? How are you trying to be understood? What are you looking for? Knowing this stuff can be incredibly helpful! Knowing what your point is can help you stay with it.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RIGHT
Ya just don’t. Sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes we’re right and having a conversation with someone who just refuses to see it. We don’t have to circle around aimlessly in a conversation trying to prove how right we are.
BE WILLING TO HEAR “NO”
Just as you’re a full, dynamic, complex, and important human being with thoughts, opinions, and feelings, so is everyone else. Be willing to hear the truth. Be willing and open to rejection. If you notice that you become very defensive when someone says “no,” what is that defensiveness trying to say to you?
Conflict happens. Doing all we can to avoid conflict can often lead to some very deep feelings of resentment and feeling unheard or unimportant. We’re far more likely to have a much bigger fight by holding it all in until we bust at the seams. Remember that anger is a secondary emotion, which means there are probably a few primary emotions lurking under the surface. Usually, those primary emotions are related to fear. It isn’t to say that our anger isn’t valid, but perhaps to actually underscore that. Anger has a place. So does conflict. Embracing it as part of how we do stuff means that it doesn’t have to take up quite so much space in your box of fears.
Show up! Show people that you’re listening and tracking what they’re saying. Be present in your conversations as much as you can. Remember that even if we’re feeling at a solid 5/10, showing up fully at that 5 is our 100% for that moment.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: THE TAKEAWAY
So much of how we communicate with others actually depends on how well we’re managing our own experience. If we get triggered and dysregulated, it can be more difficult to come back to neutral. Practicing using effective strategies for communicating while we’re already neutral can be a really great way to solidify skills. That way, we get good at them before we need to call on them during a more heated conversation.
As with so many things, have some compassion for your own learning experience. We’re born ready to learn how to communicate and start learning right away. That means some of what we’re working with is as old as we are. It makes sense that we have the same reactions and feelings that we’ve always had. Changing it up doesn’t have to be changing who we are. But rather, it’s an opportunity to decide how we are going to do this life stuff.
You got this. And if you need support, the therapists at Relationship Insights are only an email away!