Before I delve into the topic, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am no expert at communication, as my partners will no doubt attest. I am very much a work in progress. What follows is only a bit of insight into some of the things I have learned, and some that I am still very much working on.
What Is Communication?
By definition, communication is the transfer of information. It’s a transaction, nothing more. So I will clarify that when I refer to healthy communication, I’m talking about bringing the human condition to the table, with our needs, desires, and emotions. This is where things have the potential to get bumpy, because healthy communication is critical to riding out the ups and downs that are inevitable with any relationship. Conflicts are far easier to resolve when the involved parties are effective communicators.
You can’t read their mind.
No matter how strong and otherworldly your connection may feel, you don’t know what the other person is thinking unless they communicate it to you. One of the most common barriers to effective, healthy communication is the defensive behavior demonstrated by anticipating what someone else is thinking without asking. When we do that, our subconscious assigns intent without the necessary information.
Example: If I am in a negative headspace and you crack a joke, I may assign an incorrect negative intent to your behavior when all you were trying to do is be funny.
Use When/I Statements
Admittedly, this is one of those woo-woo ideas that we learn in counseling, but using when/I statements is an effective way of relating to others what we need, want, and feel.
Instead of “You make me so mad!”
Try “When you cut me off mid-sentence, I feel as though what I have to say isn’t important to you.”
Instead of “You don’t bother calling me anymore. You obviously don’t care.”
Try “When you don’t call like you used to, I feel like you don’t care about me.”
Accentuate the positive.
We tend to share more about the negative things people do than the positive. Healthy communication should mean that we share the positive things we see about someone with them. This isn’t reserved only for major wins, either. Get in the habit of saying “thank you” for little things that might easily be overlooked.
Healthy communication requires talking and listening.
When we get in our feelings (good and bad), we have a tendency to either over or under share. That’s to say that we either vent or shut down. Neither of these leave space for the most undervalued and under-practiced skills of health communication: listening.
When our mind is set on communicating in a healthy way, we have to listen to understand, not to respond. The difference is vast; listening to respond isn’t really listening at all. It is listening only for verbal cues while subconsciously planning a response. In those circumstances, we’re checked out and not communicating in a healthy way. Learning to listen effectively is a skill that has the power to transform relationships, but only when we really listen with the intent of better understanding what the other person is trying to tell us.
Ugh. Can I just preface this by saying that written communication is both my favorite and least favorite, often at the same time? I’ve been a writer for decades. I love the written word. But when it comes to conversational communication, text messages lack the benefit of tone and inflection that we get from in-person or telephone conversations. It is so easy to misinterpret or misread something sent in a text, especially when we are in our own feelings about something unrelated.
When communicating via written word, take extra steps to make sure you are effectively relating an accurate reflection of your thoughts and intent. This is no place for passive-aggressive ambiguity.