Many clients, whether individuals, parents, couples and multiple-partner relationships come into treatment wanting to improve communication. They are either experiencing frequent conflict, not feeling heard and don’t feel equipped to resolve conflict nor communicate effectively. Part of improving communication is have an agreement about what communication looks like, the goal of confrontation and conflicts, emotional regulation and emotional safety.
Here are a few foundations of increasing the effectiveness of your communication:
- Listen to each other. Look at each other and give your undivided attention. Stay present – don’t think about your response while someone else is talking. Listen, hear and make sure you know what they are saying. It’s important to hear and to be heard. Try to respond with “what I hear you saying is…” That gives the person talking an opportunity to clarify and makes sure that you are understanding. It also gives you a chance to slow down your communication in hopes of clearer communication.
- Manage your response. You’re allowed to be sad, angry, frustrated, etc. It’s all what you do with it and how you communicate your feelings. Being able to soothe, express, and communicate will make you feel better, will keep the conversation from escalating, will help build strong foundation to handle conflict, will potentially assist in breaking old patterns of arguing, and will help you communicate while still honoring the intensity of your emotions. If you become overwhelmed or flooded, pause the conversation for a specific amount of time and agree to come back after you’ve soothed.
- After you’ve listened, are certain you understand and soothed your emotional response, you can share what you’re thinking and feeling. Respond to what the other person is saying, don’t give into a defensive responses, be accountable to your role in the conflict and communicate using “I” statements.
- Love – Validation – Respect. There is no winner of an argument with the people you love. As “cheesy” as it sounds, if there is winner, everyone loses. You’re allowed to have your opinions, experiences and feelings while someone else can have a different opinion, experience, and feelings. They’re all worthy of being heard and respected. Validate each other’s experiences and work collaboratively to find resolution.
- Hold on to positive images. Sometimes when we are angry, struggling to communicate and in an argument, our view of the other person may become clouded and either lean towards or become dominated by negative images. Try to shift your mind towards a positive image, so you can help integrate a more balanced and integrated view of the other person.
- Commit to rules of communication and hold yourself accountability to following them. Many of us have internalized years of dysfunctional and harmful communication habits and behaviors. Following these steps can be hard and it will require being more intentional than you’re possibly used to being. However, it will be worth it and will help you create healthy and effective communication in your relationships.