Communication is one of life’s most essential skills. It’s a fundamental pillar of any relationship. And while we all talk and listen, how efficiently we carry that out is up for debate. Nevertheless, effective communication is vital to a healthy and happy relational partnership.
Within a relationship, two emotional human beings bring their own experiences, history, and expectations with different levels of communication skills. The good news is effective communication is a skill you can always learn and improve upon.
Communication is a learned skill
We all began learning how to communicate as young tots. As a parent, I couldn’t wait until my children said their first words. So I would coax and praise them when they started talking. And when they began stringing words together to form sentences, I was sure I had birthed geniuses. But unfortunately, I don’t think I put as much effort into teaching them how to listen. In fact, as time went on, it became abundantly clear I had not!
Because we all learn how to communicate uniquely, it can be curious or frustrating when we find ourselves not being understood by the person we are trying to relate to.
Indeed, we can all attest that just because we hear someone talking to us does not always mean that we are listening to them. And unfortunately, some of us are much better at talking than listening. So, to have good communication in your relationship, you need to have both.
What is effective communication?
Authentic communication is so much more than just swapping information. It’s about grasping the emotion and intentions behind the statement. Effective communication is a two-way street. You want to convey your message so that it is received and understood precisely how you intended. Likewise, you want to listen in a way that enables you to gain the whole meaning of what is being said to make the other person feel heard and understood.
How to improve your communication skills
1 . Become an engaged listener
People tend to focus only on what they want to say. Still, effective communication is less about talking and more about listening. Listening means understanding the information and emotions the speaker is trying to communicate to you. When genuinely engaged in what is being said, you will pick up on the subtle intonations in someone’s voice that tells you how that person is feeling, making them feel heard and understood, which can then help build a more robust and deeper connection.
2. Pay attention to nonverbal signals
We’ve all heard the adage, “Actions speak louder than words,” especially when we deeply care about what we are trying to communicate. The way we look, listen, and react to another person tells them more about how we feel than words alone can ever do. And if you have ever been on the receiving end of an eye roll, I’m sure you will heartily agree that this is true.
Nonverbal communication, or body language, includes facial expressions, body movement gestures, eye contact, posture, tone of voice, breathing patterns, and even muscle tension. These signals indicate to the person you are communicating with if you are being truthful, whether or not you care, and how well you listen. When your nonverbal signals correspond with your words, they bring clarity, trust, and respect to the relationship. Conversely, nonverbal cues that don’t match your words can generate mistrust, tension, and confusion.
Understanding and using nonverbal communication can help you communicate what you mean, connect with others, work through challenging situations, and build better relationships with those at home and in general.
3. Stay calm and in the present
Disagreements will happen. And when they do, you must be aware of and control your emotions. For example, suppose you are already feeling stressed about something. In that case, you are more likely to misread the other person and respond in a way you might regret later. Therefore, remaining calm will, in many cases, help the other person to stay calm. If need be, take a moment to destress yourself and the situation by taking a break until you feel relaxed enough to go forward.
As far as staying in the present, stay on topic. Too often, when we are upset, we find ourselves bringing up past offenses and using them as ammunition to try and win the argument. That is not the time to bring up old hurts. Save that for another time when you are not in the middle of a dispute, keeping it from escalating and growing larger.
4. Create and maintain a respectful relationship
Mutual respect is a straightforward concept. It means that you treat your partner thoughtfully and courteously. However, sustaining respect throughout a relationship takes effort. Because we are human, if someone begins to treat us negatively, inconsiderately, and disrespectfully, we tend to respond in kind. When you set that pattern, it feeds on itself. The disrespect grows until most interactions contain sarcasm, inconsideration, criticism, accusatory, and demeaning behavior. Sometimes the lack of respect isn’t so apparent, though. Ignoring your partner or indifferently responding might be more subtle but is equally corrosive to the relationship.
Everyone desires to be valued for who they are and what they bring to the relationship—mutual differences in thoughts, feelings, and values being accepted and respected. When disagreements arise, it’s okay to be angry, but you should also remain respectful. And if you need to express a negative thought, you can do it positively. You can be assertive by expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs openly and honestly while respecting others and not being aggressive, hostile, or demanding. Effective communication is not about winning an argument or forcing your opinions on others but understanding the other person.
Ask most therapists, and they will tell you that good communication is at the heart of any successful relationship–Sophie Winters
Developing your communication skills and abilities is a lifelong process. And while nobody is a perfect communicator, you can work to communicate better by trying a few of these suggestions. In addition, working with a coach is an excellent way to learn additional techniques to enhance communication skills.
Hi, I’m Kris Henderson. I want you to know that I am here to help. If you are looking for better communication in your relationships, consider being the one making an effort to improve, which hopefully will encourage the other to come along for the ride. If you want more personalized support, I invite you to contact me or schedule your phone call today.
This article originally appeared on Counseling Solutions of West Michigan.