We learn our communication from observing how others communicate. Of all the communication we observe and watch, much of it is poor. Parents, teachers and peers all have a significant role to play in how we learn to communicate. And we pick up all of the bad habits we have from them.
More often than not, our communication styles and conflict resolution methods are modeled on others’ poor communication styles, styles that just don’t work. Certain styles are also rewarded or seem to be rewarded. For example, being loud or aggressive in your communication may win the battle but ultimately, everyone loses.
Children’s voices are generally undervalued and their voices are drowned out. Therefore, little attention is given to providing instruction on how to communicate effectively. As children, we tend to bumble through. Sure we learn the basic etiquette of not interrupting and turn taking, but effective communication is a lot more than that! Developing poor communication skills in childhood sets you up for poor communication as an adult, in your relationships and at work and across your lifespan.
So here are some basic tips to get you started:
It isn’t always the right time to talk. Maybe you or your partner are angry with each other. It makes sense, then, to not enter into a dialogue at this point as more likely it will escalate into an argument. First, establish safety. You both need to feel ready and believe that the other person will respect you and listen to your concerns. You need to be ready to act maturely and make sure you’re not making the situation worse. Mutual respect and safety are essential to effective communication.
Safety can be created through protocols. The Dos and Don’ts. It might seem trivial but many couples forget the basics and laying out some communication protocols can really help. For example, one protocol might be ‘no put downs’. Sounds easy right? Or ‘focus on the topic at hand’ or ‘no raised voices’. Developing a set of negotiated and agreed upon protocols can support safety and effective communication.
Commitments are different to protocols. Commitments are related to the outcomes. For example, as a couple, you might want to commit yourselves to daily conversations. Or commit yourself to a win-win resolution. Making a commitment to ensure that the outcome of the communication is positive can be a great way to enhance effective communication. Making a commitment will help you to focus and pay attention to what you need to say and how you want to say it.
It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
My final tip is this, be aware of how the other is experiencing you. What do they see, hear and feel when they communicate with you? Are you creating shame and guilt? Are they feeling small and diminished in the conversation? Do they feel unsafe?
Here are some suggestions to help communicate your needs and support the other.
“When I heard you call me a ______, I felt really hurt and disrespected. I would prefer that I was not put down like that”.
“I realise I messed that up, that’s not what I wanted to say, can I have another go at communicating my thoughts and ideas”.
“I am starting to become upset/angry, I think what would really help me right now is a time out. I am going to take a break and come back to this conversation when I am feeling more myself”.
“That wasn’t my intention, my intention was….”
“I can see that you’re becoming upset, I want this conversation to go well, would you like to take a break?”
Can I repeat to you what you just said and can you tell me if I have fully understood you and your position?
Effective communication is always something we need to work on and if possible, support others to achieve. So many misunderstandings and arguments result from poor communication, life is short, life is messy, wasting time in anger and misunderstanding is a loss for all.