The lifeblood of healthy relationships is excellent communication. A relationship is an emotional (and often physical) space inhabited by two or more people, and where there is more than one person involved, communication is required.When we communicate well with others, we inform them clearly about our concerns, hopes, fears, expectations, desires, and other information. Additionally, for communication to be complete, we need to get feedback from them about what we’ve said, and we must listen to what they have to say, as well.
Whether we’re talking about a relationship between siblings, spouses, parents, and their children, friends, colleagues, or neighbors, good communication helps these relationships to flourish, and poor communication stifles their growth and the sense of fulfillment in them.
7 Tips for How to Communicate Better in Relationships
What are some things to consider as we pursue good communication with others? How do we keep improving in this vital area of life? Here are a few pointers to help you along the way.
Listen more, speak less
One key aspect of communication is that it is not centered around you. Good communication is about developing a dialogue, and not simply providing you with an opportunity to monologue toward a captive audience. There is a give and take that must happen for good communication to occur.
This is especially so in our world with multiple cultures and complex different ways to relate to one another. A great piece of advice is to listen more and speak less. James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. This applies to our relationship with God and with other people as well.
If we are honest with ourselves, one of the more frustrating things that happen in a conversation is to walk away and feel like you haven’t been heard. If the other person spoke over you, or in what they were saying it just didn’t seem like they were listening to what you were saying (and they simply wanted to make their point), it feels like a waste of time. So, why subject someone else to that?We can serve the people with whom we’re in a relationship by spending more time listening and less time talking. By “listening” we are talking of what has been termed active or engaged listening – not simply keeping quiet but asking probing questions and reflecting what they’ve said back to them to check that we’re hearing them correctly.
Questions such as “Do you mean to say X?” or “Am I understanding you correctly that you’re saying X?” help us to slow down, really pay attention and show the other person that we’re listening and interested in understanding what they’re saying.
Don’t make assumptions
Related to listening well is setting aside our assumptions when we’re talking with other people. When we make assumptions about the other person, we filter what they’re saying through whatever lens we create. If you assume that your colleague is gunning for your job, even the most innocent of remarks can be read as malicious and unkind.
Assuming that someone is not trustworthy colors your perception of them and how you take what they say. Maybe, you think to yourself, despite their protests to the contrary, your neighbor did let their dog dig up your garden. And so, you respond to your neighbor or colleague in anger because you assume it was a deliberate slight.
Making assumptions applies to situations where we are dealing with strangers, but also with people we know. When assumptions are at play, they mold how and whether we listen to the other person, and how we will respond to them. Assumptions short-circuit the process of good communication because of hasty judgments based on potentially incomplete information. Rather than assuming, seek the facts.
Mind the gap
The two above points about listening well and not making assumptions are complemented by minding the gap. What is meant by “minding the gap?” Simply put, before you have full information about what happened and why be aware that there’s a gap where you simply don’t know the intention or heart behind someone’s actions.You can guess at what happened and why, but you don’t know. Rather than assuming the worst, minding the gap means giving the person the benefit of the doubt that they had good intentions until you know otherwise.
Often, when we find a gap, we will fill it with negative assumptions about why, for example, our spouse or parent said this thing or didn’t do what they said they would. Maybe you’ve had a few bad experiences in the past, and these have shaped your expectations.
It feels like going out on a limb to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, approaching a conversation from the posture of expecting the worst is a recipe for anger and very little listening on our part. This bodes ill for good communication.
Communicate your feelings, not their intentions
Premarital counselors offer amazing tips for prospective couples. One such tip that is valuable for other relationships is how to communicate with others when they say something hurtful. Phrasing things well makes a huge difference. Instead of saying something like, “You treated me like trash when you said what you said,” it could be better phrased as “I felt like trash when you said what you said.”
What’s the difference? The difference is that the first statement carries an assumption that their intent was to treat you that way, while the second focuses more on the impact of what was said and the feelings it aroused. The latter statement says that though you felt a certain way because of what was said, it might not have been what the other person had in mind. It creates room for dialogue while being frank about the emotional impact felt.
Know what you mean, and say what you mean
Being clear and direct allows people to know what you want, expect, and think. One of the ways to help ourselves and the people around us is for us to know what we mean and say it as plainly as possible.People are different. Some people are naturally slower to speak and consider carefully what to say before they say it. Others are verbal processors – they think through what they are trying to say as they are saying it.
In either case, the goal is to be as clear as possible with what we mean and to communicate that. When we are seeking to communicate with others, the aim is for them to understand us. Therefore, veiled meaning and innuendo which is up for interpretation is rarely helpful.
Be aware of boundaries
Not every relationship is the same. The relationship between spouses is not the same as that between colleagues or neighbors. The relationship between long-time friends who have had the opportunity to develop a shorthand with one another isn’t the same as a budding friendship.
Thus, there are some things that are appropriate in some relationships and inappropriate in others. To be heard well by others, being aware of the nature and boundaries of a relationship allows us to communicate more effectively.
For instance, what passes as an appropriate action between friends that conveys warmth, intimacy, and comfort may be entirely inappropriate between an employer and employee because it is too personal and thus unprofessional. Alternatively, a handshake between friends might be read as too formal and standoffish, while that is standard among many colleagues.
If you are unsure of the nature of your relationship with someone, it’s probably better to err on the side of not being familiar with them. Social awareness of relational boundaries is key in knowing what you are communicating in different circumstances to different people.
Send delivery reports
Lastly, sending delivery reports is key to good communication in relationships. Tied in closely with active listening, sending delivery reports is about letting the other person know that you heard them. Remember, communication is not about you alone, it’s about the people inhabiting the relationship space together.
While you might have heard your partner tell you to take the garbage out, they need to know within a reasonable timeframe that you heard them. It helps them know that their message was sent and received. By sending a delivery report, you’re acknowledging (to them) the fact that someone spoke to you and you heard what they said.
Christian Counseling for Relationship Issues
If you need additional help learning how to communicate better in relationships or could use some support in other areas, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors listed in the counselor directory. We would be happy to work with you!
“Coffee Chat”, Courtesy of Joshua Ness, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Smile”, Courtesy of Bewakoof.com Official, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of Pablo Merchan Montes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Lilibeth Bustos Linares, Unsplash.com, CC0 License