Communication, or lack thereof, is the number one cause of failed relationships.
Poor communication in our relationships leads to fighting and bickering, feeling unheard and misunderstood, and being unable to establish a common ground. In order to strengthen our communication skills, we must develop the art of communication, practice active listening and get a real grasp on who we are.
Develop the Art of Communication
Effective communication is a learned skill. That means, if we haven’t actually gone out and learned how to communicate, we haven’t fully grasped it yet. The words we speak are not the same thing as the message we communicate. It’s about more than just threading words together. Interpersonal communication encompasses a myriad of factors such as eye contact, body language, words used, meaning implied, empathy, compassion, perspective-taking, mutual understanding and being fully present.
There are many resources available that aim to enhance our communication skills. They’re accessible, available and affordable, whether they be coaches, workshops, online resources, therapists, books or retreats. That said, the most important factor in developing our communication skills is a willingness to be vulnerable and a desire to learn.
Practice Active Listening and Being Present
If we define effective communication as an exchange of information and meaning between two parties, then active listening is a required component. Active listening is about being present, paying attention and fully understanding the intention behind what another person is saying. Active listeners let people communicate, retain what is said and respond in thoughtful, engaging ways.
When active listening is absent from the conversation, both parties may be speaking to one another but neither one is being truly understood.
When we practice active listening, we pay attention to more than just what words are being used and in what order. We also stay mindful of nonverbal communication such as body language, the process by which people relay information through physical cues. Things such as eye contact, facial expression, and body posture can reveal a lot of information about the emotion behind the message.
We interpret someone’s words by the various forms of meaning we ascribe to them. However, that may not be the intended message of the other person. It’s our responsibility to understand that there are many barriers to effective communication, and that each person brings their own emotions, perspectives, and interpretations to the exchange.
The thing about effective communication is that what’s left unsaid can be just as important, if not more so, than what is said. Whenever a breakdown in communication occurs and we go into self-protective mode, Brené Brown suggests an innovative approach instead of lashing out in anger. She recommends we use the phrase “the story I’m telling myself is…” and explaining what we think and feel about the situation. By approaching a dispute in this fashion, we’re being honest about how we feel without getting defensive and making assumptions, and we’re staying vulnerable. This, in turn, opens the door to enhanced understanding and diminishes any false stories we’re telling ourselves about the situation.
Get to Know Yourself
It’s only when we first identify how we actually feel that we can begin fostering the tools and language to express it. Through self-reflection, meditation, honesty, and vulnerability with ourselves, we can get clear on what our needs are and what message we truly seek to convey.
We can make a habit of asking ourselves some important questions when communicating. Things like: “What is it that I’m looking for in this conversation? How am I feeling right now? What are the needs I’m trying to have met?” By being honest with ourselves about what we seek to communicate and to what end, we’re better equipped to convey how we feel to others.
Finally, an important component of effective communication is taking the time to practice. We can join a group online, practice conversing with those closest to us, as well as start utilizing different tactics or skills. We should continue to self-reflect and check in with ourselves as well as those whom we’re communicating with, in order to ensure we’re on the same page.
Failure to communicate effectively can lead to triggers, knee-jerk reactions, defensive comments and even the breakdown of our relationships. Communication is a learned skill that is easy to foster, but only if we take the initiative to learn. By seeking resources, incorporating active listening and getting to know ourselves better, we increase our chances of understanding others, and in turn, in feeling understood.
Consequently, it is through the learned skill of communication that we can enhance feelings of closeness and connection in our relationships and community at large.
This article was originally featured here in Gainesville's HOME Magazine.