We’ve heard often that communication is the key to success in personal relationships. Good in theory, but how does one go about applying it in life? It’s not as if you can take a pre-packaged recipe and use it in every situation. And personal relationships are even more complex because of all the history that comes with them. Communication becomes especially critical in conflict situations. If we realized, though, that the onus lies on us to observe, analyze, and adapt accordingly, navigating the murky waters of relationship angst wouldn’t be that onerous.
I can’t profess to knowing the “secret” of being a good communicator, but here are some things I’ve learned about personal relationships over the course of the last decade:
- Listen: There’s nothing more important than actually paying attention to what the other person is saying. It’s hard to focus on the words and comprehend their meaning when all kinds of thoughts are racing through your brain at the same time. But take a deep breath and try to focus on your partner’s words instead of thinking about your rebuttal.
- Start from scratch:It’s difficult to live in the moment and be part of just that conversation without referencing to the past. But before you cite something that happened years, weeks, or days ago, pause. T a k e a b r e a t h. Is that reference truly going to help move this current conversation forward? If not, let the past go.
- Take yourself out of the situation: If you can, try to assess the situation from a neutral third person’s perspective. It’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment, but if you truly want to resolve the situation, try looking at the other person’s point of view. Maybe they aren’t being “completely irrational” after all. Step into their shoes … it might shine a new light on the situation.
- Hold your fire: What aggravates an already tense situation even more is when we let go and spit out angry words that are bound to come back and haunt us later. Before you start pointing fingers, take a moment to reflect on what this will lead to. More anger? More hurt? Follow the three steps above … you’ll find yourself calming down considerably.
- Check your tone: It matters how you voice your anger/hurt/concerns to your partner. When that thought is making its journey from your brain to your tongue, let it pass through the tone filter. Your words can be harsh enough, don’t overdo it by adding flair. While you’re at it, you may also consider choosing some other words.
- Don’t keep it all in: The worst thing one can do in a relationship is to allow a wound to fester. If you’re hurt or upset, let the other person know right away (or at least within an hour of the trigger) instead of keeping it in, letting it simmer, and making it part of a long list of “wrongs” against you. The more you let it weigh on your chest, the harder it becomes to isolate just that incident and resolve the problem. Stop associating what happened now with something in the past. When you keep it in, it results in generalization phrases like “you always do this,” or “you never listen.” Deal with the problem when (or soon after) it happens.
- Select your medium: Maybe you’re just not that good a face-to-face talker. Maybe the situation becomes so overwhelming for you that you can’t react appropriately without contributing to the downhill spiral. Maybe it’s too emotional for you. Have you considered resolving your communication crisis via e-mail? Or chat? Or a letter? Perhaps, you could call the person? There’s no dearth of communication channels in this day and age. Choose the one that helps you communicate best.
- Have a dialogue: Listen and then respond. Don’t go on a rant. Make sure the other person is “with” you. Remember, this situation doesn’t warrant a venting session. This is a chance for you to have an honest dialogue with each other.
- It’s not about winning: When you’re trying to solve a communication crisis, remember both of you need to come out winners. It’s not a competition. If your partner loses, you lose, too.
- Be the bigger person: Sometimes it’s just too hard for the other person to say sorry. Can you bring yourself to being content with that? A smile or a kiss may serve the purpose just as well. After all, it’s not about always saying the words … it’s about expressing your feelings. Go ahead, give a hug.
Have other tips to share? Post a comment.