Communication simply breaks down to how we verbally and non-verbally interact with one another. Healthy communication involves practice, and sometimes we must practice communication skills that do not come naturally in order for those skills to become habits. With practice, we can learn to not only verbalize our own wants and needs in a more productive manner, but we can also learn to listen and validate the other’s wants and needs as well.
First, effective communication requires space. When I refer to space, I mean physical space and emotional space. Time and place can be everything. It would be ideal to carve out specific times during the day or during the week where all parties can come together to discuss an issue without interruption. That is not always the reality we live in. Therefore, try paying attention to what would be the “wrong time,” to bring up an issue, such as first thing in the morning when all parties are hurrying to get to school and work, or first thing after school and work when we all need a moment of rest. Think about what would be ideal times to communicate about a specific issue, and try to avoid arguments that simply stem from “bad timing.”
Next, focus on the issue at hand and stay on topic. Work with one issue at a time that is the present issue, not past grievances that do not address the current concern. While addressing the issue at hand, try using “I feel,” statements. "I feel," statements do not place blame on the other person. They reframe to allow the other person to see your point of view. “When this happens, I feel…” As you are explaining your wants and needs, stay mindful of your tone of voice and how softly or loudly you are speaking. We all know how defensive we can feel if someone is raising his or her voice at us and saying statements that sound like an attack. Practice speaking your point of view assertively by making eye contact and using “I” statements. Once you have said what you wish to say, it is time to allow space for the other person to do the same. During this time, you allow the other person his or her own physical and emotional space to process what was just said. Practice active listening, and try not to interrupt. Give that person the space that was allowed to you.
Finally, practice the skill called reflection. Reflection is when you repeat back what the other person has said to you, but you use your own words. Summarizing what the other person said not only shows that you were listening, but it also shows that you understood. Reflection shows that you actually get it. Validation is the key to effective communication. I often times hear that one person just does not feel heard. If you can practice reflecting and validating what the other person said, and the other person can practice this with you as well, it will go a long way. Simply saying, “I heard you say…” “It sounds like you are feeling…” “I understand what you are saying. I get where you are coming from.” These phrases can make a huge difference in each party feeling as if they can continue to be open.
Healthy communication is worth practicing each and every day. However, we are not always perfect, and sometimes we yell, blame, and give up. Sometimes we shut down, and sometimes we blow up. It’s okay to express your emotions, and it’s okay to not always express them in the most effective way. If we try practicing a few communication skills regularly, we will be on the road to better understanding and connecting.