“Why are you not getting it? Are you even listening?”
Are these the questions you routinely ask yourself when talking with others? Do not worry -these are common questions that come up when two people are struggling to communicate. These feelings of frustration can show up in a conversation between spouses, siblings, and parents with their children! If you're having these frustrations, both of you are probably struggling with ineffective communication. What might cause ineffective communication you might ask? Well, one of the quickest ways we end up communicating ineffectively is by not listening the other person. How many times have you found yourself responding to something the person did last week, last month, and sometimes years ago? When that happens conversations can get negative and confrontational quickly! When talking to someone feels like a negative experience, it can actually cause us to not see the benefit in communication and instead avoid talking about tough topics.
But how do I know if I'm specifically bad at communication? Well, how often in heated conversation do you resort to talking over someone, placing blame, or even bringing up past incidences where they hurt you? We usually do these things because we believe we know what the other person wil say, do, or even think next. Those kinds of assumptions can be very wrong and bring about the thing we feared the most, causing our own negative thoughts to come true. That kind of communication causes people to be defensive and they will either stop talking to you or lash out to protect themselves. I mean think about it, if we bark at a dog and blame it for barking back, what are we really doing? So, let's stop and take a closer look at what communication really is. Communication is one of our primary ways of talking with someone to accomplish a goal, whether that goal be to get work done, feel closer to others, or just learn something new. This is why ineffective communication is so frustrating- nothing gets accomplished! Ineffective communication blocks any progress that could have been made in conversation which then defeats the purpose of communicating with each other. So, if your communication isn't accomplishing its goal due to the other person feeling attacked or defensive, you could be communicating ineffectively.
Now let's talk about what effective communication is, and some small fine-tuning tips that can help you and your loved ones effectively communicate. The first thing is to remember that what both people have to say is important. Each person should be ready to hear out the other person whether you agree or not- everyone's feelings are valid even if they have different perspectives. Making good eye contact and repeating back to the person what you heard is always helpful so you know you aren't misunderstanding them. Also letting the person know what you're feeling while talking to them is important. You can do this by using “I” Statements, which can help the other person to not feel blamed or attacked and can help both of you to be on the same page about how you are feeling and leave out any assumptions. “I” Statements are simply comments about how you are feeling that start with “I feel….”.
Possible assumption of wife when husband seems to be avoiding her- “He doesn’t want to talk to me again today!”
I-statement from husband- “I feel frustrated when we talk about the bills so I avoid that conversation.”
Possible assumption of parent when teen doesn’t want to talk about school-“He probably wasn’t paying attention or was goofing off in class again!”
I-statement that teen could say- “I feel overwhelmed when I think about school work.”
When you use “I” statements, it allows the person to ask “why” or “how come” and possibly increase both peoples’ interest and motivation to understand each other. Also setting boundaries helps when you want to communicate effectively. Identifying the goal of the conversation, tone of voice, locations, and statements that will be the most helpful and/or damaging to your efforts to communicate effectively is important. Writing down these rules and making them readily available and helps each person to remember what makes your communication effective. You can talk with your family and decide what rules work best for everybody a write them down so each person knows how they can stay focused on effectively communicating.
Example of rules:
The Don’ts- No yelling, no talking when one person is angry, no name calling, no placing blame, no talking in front of the kids, in the living room, in public, or over the phone.
The Do’s- Talk in the car, bedroom, face to face, or in private space. Talk calmly, use I statements, be supportive, listen and wait my turn.
It's true communicating effectively can be very hard work, but it's worth it in the end so that both people feel heard. That’s why most of the problem is how we talk about the problem and not what the problem actually is. With effective communication, most problems can be solved. I hope these tips will be helpful the next time you need to communicate with one of your loved ones!