Effective communication. Gotta have it. We all know of its importance as a vital ingredient in relationships. I don’t need to tell you that. It’s the #1 complaint expressed in marriage and couples counseling.
In her article, Just Say It, NYC journalist Carlin Flora examines why we are not saying what we need to be saying to the people we love and offers strategies to change course and learn how to open up. Key elements of a power chat (contributed by psychologists, which are great and very helpful!) were also included. Because of their usefulness, I had to pass them on (with a little enhancement of my own based on personal and professional experiences).
1. Ask Yourself, Why? Before asking a question, ask yourself is this for the betterment of the relationship or for yourself? What is the utility of my question? Can it wait? Is what you are asking about a common theme in the relationship or an isolated situation?
2. Know You’re Worth It. Some people hesitate to speak up, use their voice, and share how they feel. Don’t. Unspoken words often return with a vengeance veiled in resentment. An important question to consider is, why not? Why don’t you feel important enough to speak up? If you cannot speak and share openly, what does that say about your relationship?
3. Watch For An Opening. Yes, there are times that are better than others. Ask your partner, “Is this a good time to talk?” Equally important, is it a good time for you? Find the better or optimal time to bring up a subject, especially a sensitive one.
4. Don’t Fume and Talk. The worst time to bring something up is when you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Is this a good time for you? This also considers a person’s ability to regulate their own emotions. Can you manage and modulate your emotions in a way that creates the “space” needed for an open conversation? What do you do when you get heated and start to feel overwhelmed, anxious, agitated, or angry?
When people start to get emotional (and we ALL know when we start to get that way and our internal temperature starts to rise), take a time out. Go to another room. Take a walk. Step away from the situation until a cooler head prevails and then return to the conversation.
Don’t forget that last part. Returning to the conversation after you cool down. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that their partner walks away and doesn’t come back to the conversation, I would be a rich woman! But this isn’t about me becoming a rich woman. This is about not just regulating your own mood, which by the way is your responsibility, but also coming back to finish the conversation so it can be resolved.
Another complaint registered by couples – one or both people never return to resolve and so the issues continue to recur. This is called the circular conversation, the one that never gets resolved.
5. Go For Quality. One productive talk = better than “hinting” at the conversation over several occasions. Mind reading does not work people! Learn to create the conversation. Many topics are seldom deemed “one and done.” They often need to be discussed over a period of time in order to resolve. Its a process. Consider taking an exploratory approach to resolving conflict and begin to open up the issue for discussion.
6. Use “I” Statements. Most of us know that starting out a sentence with “I” versus “You” gives you more bang for your buck in conversations. Doing this doesn’t put the other person on the defense (another complaint). Say, “I feel disconnected from you when we don’t spend any time together rather than, “You don’t spend any time with me!”.
7. Don’t Get Sidetracked. Who isn’t guilty of this? Staying on topic is very difficult for many people. Call it the grab bag of issues or throwing in the kitchen sink – doesn’t matter because its all the same.
Staying on topic is challenging especially when someone hears a trigger word or someone says, “you”, no matter how evolved we become, we become defensive in these moments. Its natural. Trigger words help create these situations.
Ask, “Can we table these other topics? Can we come up with a different time or day to discuss them?” Recognize that a single topic might be a big enough issue to discuss just for today. Work towards deciding what you will and will not discuss before you beginning the conversation.
8. Kindness and humor. The ability to be kind, empathetic, and thoughtful resonate and are remembered long after the conversation ends. Adding humor and levity to life allows defenses to soften and dissipate where tension once prevailed.
Whether I am working with couples working to save their marriage or in my role as a Divorce Mediator, these elements are effective. Each couple is still striving for resolution, clarity, and most importantly more healthier communication skills whether they are working to stay together or dissolving their marriage.