Many relationship problems are rooted in a communication breakdown. These can be as simple as not hearing what the other person is saying, because we get caught up in our own perspectives. -Sumesh Nair
A common complaint between couples is that they don’t feel understood, because their partner doesn’t listen. And when a partner doesn’t listen, it feels like they don’t care.
Often, however, it’s really more of a communication breakdown than an issue of whether or not they care.
Over time, poor communication can leave couples avoiding conversations with each other, or cause them to argue constantly because they just don’t feel heard.
So today we’re talking about effective communication.
Above Anything Else, Be a Good Listener
The best communicators are those who listen to what the other person says in an open and understanding way, and then can articulate what they’re hearing back to their partner.
This minimizes anger and resistance, and opens the door for more sharing.
According to Thomas Gordon, a leading pioneer in teaching communication skills and conflict resolution, communication can go wrong when the following things happen: the following diagram illustrates the process of communication.
Communication can go wrong when:
- The speaker does not say exactly what they mean.
- The listener does not hear the words correctly.
- The listener has a different understanding of the speaker’s words than they were meant to have.
- The speaker isn’t aware that the listener heard them wrong.
Most problems occur between steps 3 and 4:
“What the listener thinks the speaker means,” and “What the speaker really means.”
If what is being said isn’t clarified in this step, it causes confusion, because the people involved could be talking about two entirely different things without ever realizing it.
To avoid this problem, you can practice reflective listening, where you repeat what you think you heard the other person say.
- Verifies that you were listening
- Helps to clarify if you understood the meaning of what was communicated.
- Allows them to correct you if you’re wrong
Caution! Don’t just repeat what they said word-for-word. Instead, use your own words so they know you didn’t just hear them, but also understood.
For example, “You get very angry with me when I don’t respond and walk away from you. You feel hurt and that’s why you can’t stop yourself from nagging me until I answer you.”
This process clears up the problems between steps 3 and 4 and helps you to feel more heard and understood.
I, not You
To help avoid defensiveness (which is the quickest way to get someone to stop listening to you) use “I” not “You.”
Example of poor communication: “You make me so angry when you walk away from me, so I have to nag you!”
Example of good communication: “I get angry when you walk away from me because I want you to listen. So it makes me want to follow you around and nag until you answer me.”
Notice how different it sounds when you use I statements? It takes the blame off the other person and helps prevent defensiveness, which means they’ll hear more of what you’re saying.
Recognizing where the communication breaks down between you and your partner will help you to fix the issues, so you can both feel better heard and understood.
Here are a set of questions to ask that will help to know areas of improvements.
- Do you have a hard time expressing what you want to say?
- Does your partner misunderstand you?
- Do they interpret what you say into something other than what you mean?
- Do you think about what you want to say without listening first?
- Do you become defensive or argumentative?
- Do you walk away from a conflict feeling like you have won or lost?