There’s More Than One Right Way to Effective Communications
A little listening, plus a little fairness, plus a little understanding can help you hear another point of view.
Lack of effective communication skills leading to frustration, not feeling understood, disconnection, and conflict is a commonly cited reason for unhappy marriages. Many divorcing couples point to miscommunication, lack of communication, and poor conflict management skills as triggers in the breakdown of a marriage.
One reason is that the way we deal with disagreement, expressing feelings and needs, and addressing problems are learned in from our families. In fact even when those skills are ineffective, we repeat them in our relationships because it’s all we know.
To create an environment where communication can be effective starts with figuring out what’s not working, then applying the new strategies in future relationships. These skills can be practiced with friends, family members, romantic partners, children, and even ex-spouses!
Here are some general guidelines to get you started:
1. Start sentences with the word “I,” not “you,” followed by a feeling word. (Do not use the word “that” after the feeling word as it implies judgment). Other words that can imply criticism and trigger defensiveness are “because” and “why.” Example: I feel ______ when you______.” Or “When you_______, I feel______.
2. Be Real about Your Feelings.Remember that your purpose in sharing your feelings is to help the other person to understand you better and to clarify issues. Avoid the following pitfalls as they will impede your ability to communicate successfully:
• Insults (No Name Calling)
• Anger (Physical and Emotional)
• Avoidance/Stonewalling/Silent Treatment
• Not Listening
• Making Excuses
• Competing To “Win’ The Issue
• “Parenting’ Your Partner/ Role Dominance
• Putting A Band Aid On The Issue
3. You can show your partner that you have HEARD what he/she said by:
• Paraphrasing — I heard you say you are feeling.
• Asking non-judgmental, clarifying questions.
• Validating — I can see that you are hurt, angry, sad, disappointed, etc.)
4. Fair Fighting. Focus on finding the solution.
• Identify the problem.
• Attack the problem, not the person
• Listen to each other
• Show you care about each other’s feelings
• Fully “own” your statements and actions. You are responsible for your choices.
• Identify 3 possible solutions before picking one.
One of the most common traps we fall into when disagreements arise is that we think we are “right” and that our way is the only way. In truth, there can be many “right” (but different) ways to address a problem. Because people have different perspectives does not mean that one perspective is right and the other is wrong. Rather than striving to be “right,” focus more on being kind. You’ll find that disagreements will end a lot sooner and both parties will walk away happier.
By Deirdre Hally Shaffer, MSW, LCSW. Ms. Shaffer is a member of the Alpha Resource Directory and has a private practice in Doylestown, PA.
©2016 Alpha Resource Center