When you hear the word “communication,” you might immediately think of conversation. And while conversation is part of communication, it’s not the whole of it.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and felt like you weren’t heard at all, or it felt like nothing was said? Have you ever felt like it was a waste of energy or time because nothing was, actually, communicated?
We all know the key to healthy relationships is communication, but the first step is learning what good communication is (and isn’t) and how to foster and grow it in your relationship itself.
What is effective communication?
Effective communication, especially in a relationship, is when two people are able to share their thoughts and feelings in a way that is honest, but also compassionate toward the other person. It is not shutting the other out to get your point across, yelling at them or using passive-aggressive (or directly aggressive) comments at an inappropriate time and place.
When we dialogue with another, we often listen to them and formulate our response at the same time. But listening to respond is one sure to way misunderstand or not fully comprehend what the other is saying; listening to understand is the key to effective communication.
Communication has five aspects or components that allow us to better understand what healthy communication is and how to put it into practice; these aspects are often called the 5 C’s and are:
- Clarity – Speak in a way that clearly shares your thought, idea or feeling; be clear about your needs and take ownership of your experience of a situation. Try to keep emotion at bay and only state the facts of the situation
- Concise – Don’t elaborate or add emotional responses or guilt trips into the conversation; state simply what upset you, what you want to change or what hurt your feelings without embellishing the facts or adding unnecessary details
- Complete – Don’t leave out crucial parts of the story/situation; if you were partially to blame, take responsibility; the more complete your story or statements are, the fewer loose ends will be left unattended
- Curious – Communication is two-sided dialoguing, so let the other share their side of the story, uninterrupted or corrected. You should express curiosity in what they have to say – it will teach you more about them and enhance respect overall
- Compassion – Just as you want your significant other to be understanding of your case, so, too, do they deserve the same respect. If you did something that hurt them, too, take responsibility and promise to do better. Work together to find a solution that meets both your needs
By starting with an understanding of these simple aspects, you can continue to build a relationship based on effective communication.
How can I practice healthy communication in my relationship?
There are a number of behaviors you and your partner can practice as you work on enhancing your communication skills. These skills will allow you to express your feelings in a calm and sincere way as well as help you respond kindly and compassionately to what your partner has to say.
Always think before you speak and don’t be afraid of silence in the midst of your conversation. When your partner says something, you do not need to immediately respond, especially if you feel that the response would be based in emotion or anger. Instead, take a deep breath, consider what you want to say and think through your response to make sure that it is clear, compassionate and correct.
No one likes to share their thoughts and feelings and then feel like no one was listening – active listening not only shows respect to your partner, it gives you the chance to truly understand their perspective. When the two of you are able to communicate in a way that fosters understanding, compassion and care for the other, your relationship will benefit immensely.
Remain in the present
This skill is twofold – firstly, make sure you aren’t daydreaming, thinking up a response or formulating defensive strategies when the other is talking, no matter how tempting it may be. Secondly, don’t bring up past hurts or situations; again, tempting, but you’re here to talk about a present situation and unearthing the past will only cause more confusion and frustration.
There are certain times and places where certain topics and issues should be discussed; bringing up uncomfortable topics at the dinner table with friends, for example, is never a good idea and is far from effective communication. Instead, if the two of you do need to have a discussion, do it privately when both of you have time and energy. Don’t put it off, of course, but be selective so that both of you are prepared and present.
Communication is hard, but help is available
Learning effective communication skills and behaviors in relationships is hard and can take a lot of time. However, it’s the surest way to a successful relationship.
If you and your partner are struggling to communicate, it may help to consider a counselor who can walk you through strategies and skills for effective communication. To get in touch with a counselor today, contact The Light Program by calling 610-644-6464.