Learning communication tools can be so important in many aspects of our lives. But poor communication is very common – and is often a primary concern for people seeking counselling support. Whether it is couples, families, or individuals struggling with workplace conflict, poor communication habits can easily drive a wedge between people.
For couples, poor communication, if not addressed, can eat away at a couple’s general well being and functioning. Psychologist Dr. S. Johnson reports in her book “Hold Me Tight”, that many couples have daily struggles with what she calls “Demon Dialogues”. She is referring to the repetitive communication patterns that couples fall into every time a conflict arises. It doesn’t take much in a shaky relationship when partners are not feeling emotionally secure. A flippant comment, a sideways gesture or careless remark are taken as compromises of connection, closeness and emotional safety. As Dr. Johnson says, “when we don’t feel safe and connected, these moments are like a spark in a tinder forest. They set fire to the whole relationship.”
The good news is that with guidance, commitment and practice, it is possible to turn those bad habits around so that no matter what the context, communication can become respectful and productive rather than lead to feelings of tension and helplessness.
Communication Tool #1: Become a Better Listener
Listening is really about seeking first to understand before you seek to be understood. But all too often, we are so busy thinking about what we are going to say in response, we do not pay attention to what is being said, or how it is being said. When you are better listener, the person talking with you knows that and that can make a big difference in starting you on the right track. So, face the person, put away your phone, nod occasionally, lean in. If you hear an internal voice rehearsing what you want to say, ignore it and focus back on the speaker. After the speaker has finished, try and paraphrase rather than jump in with your side of things. Try thins like….”So what I hear you say” or ask clarifying questions like “So, do you mean to say…”. This will tell the other person that you were not just hearing, but listening.
Communication Tool #2: Listen to the non-verbal signals as well
All of us use body language whether we know it or not. Remember that people from different cultures may show different body language when communicating. And pay attention to own body language. Are you rolling your eyes? Are you crossing your legs away from the speaker? Do you cross your arms? It all adds up to sending a message.
Communication Tool #3: Don’t be in a rush
During any tense conversation, it is human nature to want to move it along and escape. But try and relax, deep breath, and collect your thoughts. Take a moment to calm down if necessary. Less is more. In other words, try to not fill any silence or gap in the conversation and try and make one point at a time – but only after you have listened to the other person.
Communication Tool #4: Be assertive, not aggressive
It is important to express your thoughts and point of view. But it does not help to raise your voice or become hostile. Try and see communication as a two way exchange of ideas and not a fight that is either won or lost. And at the end of a conversation, sometimes it is better to agree to disagree and perhaps set up a time to further the discussion. Some topics, depending on the context, need more than one exchange. It’s ok to not complete the topic in one conversation, and in fact often it is better to agree to meet again when heads are cooler.
Learning communication tools and practicing them is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight. And working on communication patterns with a counsellor can be very productive. At Waypoint, we know that choosing the right counsellor is very important to maximize your efforts and time. We have counsellors located in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland plus Greater Victoria, Langford, Colwood, Sooke and other Vancouver Island communities. Many counsellors also e-counselling if you don’t live in one of those communities. We offer a free matching service; contact us and talk with us about what struggle you have and what style might work for you. We will match you with the most appropriate counsellor and set up a free 30 minute consultation so you can see if the “fit” feels right.