They are simple in that they really are common sense practices, and yet difficult in that they are just so hard to remember and practice when communicating. However, as difficult as they may be in certain situations, they are doable.
Not only are they doable, but if practiced regularly they can also achieve clearer communication, which has the snowball effect of resulting in even clearer communication and, in the end, healthier relationships.
Technique one: Listen
This doesn’t mean just hear the words. It means hearing the tone of voice, notice the body gestures accompanying the words, and understand why the words are being said.Many times we listen to what a person says until we get one phrase to latch on to for the purpose of using it in our own argument, and then we shut out the rest. At other times, we may catch words that seem absolutely infuriating but miss the hard swallow or teary eyes that accompany them.
Technique two: Empathize
In order to really hear what a person is saying, you will have to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. This is extremely difficult, especially in a heated and emotional discussion.The last thing you want to do is see the other person’s point of view. To do so may have to mean relinquishing your own point of view for a few minutes, but if this step can be achieved, half of the battle is already over.
You can practice this technique by not taking the words personally. Instead, ask yourself, “If I was this person, how would this situation look to me? What sorts of thoughts would I be thinking about it? What emotions would it arouse in me?” If you can ask and answer those questions, you will be able to respond in a way that does not feed the fire of the heated discussion. Instead, your response will begin to help it cool down a bit.
Technique three: Clarify
After you have listened to what the person has said, clarify back to them what you think you heard. We may think we have understood because we attempted to put ourselves in their shoes, but we are still listening through our frame of reference and may not have fully caught what they are trying to say.Phrases such as,
“Can I repeat back to you what I think you said?”
or, “Am I correct in thinking you mean that. . . ?”
The person will either say, “Yes, that was what I was trying to say”
or they will tell you that, “No, that isn’t what I was saying”
and will attempt to tell you again what they are trying to say.
In that case, you have to listen to them, repeating Techniques 1-3 again.
Technique four: Acknowledge and Validate
After you have truly heard the person and clarified that you have heard them correctly, acknowledge the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that are behind the person’s words. This does not mean you have to agree with what they say. This simply means you validate their feelings.
For example: Your teen daughter gets done telling you how angry she is and unfair she thinks you are for not letting her take the car Friday night. Acknowledging her emotions may go something like, “If I was your age I would be frustrated too by the fact that I’m stuck without a car on Friday night. It’s hard to be young and not be able to be fully independent. I’m sorry you feel that way, but you still can’t have the car.”
Another example: You and your spouse are arguing and he tells you that he feels like you belittle him during arguments. Your response can be, “I can see how my words would make you feel belittled. That is not my intention but I can see how I am coming across that way.”
All of us desperately long for validation. Often, it is the invalidation of our feelings that fuels the negative emotions driving a negative conversation. Invalidation causes feelings of rejection and this can result in more hurt and anger, which in turn perpetuates an even more difficult conversation.
Technique five: Own
There will come a time in the conversation that you need to share your point of view. When you finally reach that point, use “I” statements. Do not use “you” statements. Examples of this may be:“I feel so angry when such and such happens. I feel angry because I feel scared quite honestly,” instead of, “When you yell, you make me angry.”
Or, “I’m frustrated right now,” instead of, “You frustrate me”.Or “I want to yell when I’m upset,” instead of, “Your behavior makes me yell.”
Technique six: Minimize
When expressing your point of view in the situation it is helpful to avoid statements such as, “You never listen,” or, “This always happens.” Avoid extremes when speaking of the situation at hand.
Technique seven: Connect
Talk for the purpose of connecting, not for the purpose of being right. This is extremely difficult, especially for women! We as women want to be right, even during those times when, deep down, we know we’re wrong.Healthy communication builds healthy connections.
Relationships built on “I need to be right” mentalities break down connections.
Seek the other person’s best interest as much as you are seeking your own. As a side note, usually the more secure a person is with themselves, the more willing they are to not be right all the time.
A secure person is able to meet halfway instead of having to prove their point every time a conflict comes up. A secure person is able to get beyond their needs and rights and seek the same for the person involved.
Technique eight: Resolve
Seek a resolution. Sometimes this will involve you saying that you are totally wrong and the other person is right, sometimes it may be both of you admitting that you are somewhat wrong and somewhat right, and sometimes you may get lucky and you will be all right and the other person all wrong (but that is rarely the case).
Usually situations involve two perspectives, neither one of which is wrong. Compromise is almost always necessary.
Work until an agreement can be reached. Meet at the half-way point as much as possible.This may require revisiting the conversation several times before an agreement is reached. If this is the case, practice the communication techniques each time the conversation takes place until resolution comes.
We often hear that we shouldn’t go to bed angry. This carries great truth to it. However, sometimes we do have to go to bed with the issue still unresolved. Never underestimate what a good night of sleep can do for perspective on a situation that seems impossible to resolve.
Technique nine: Seal
Finally, once the issue is resolved, let it be over. We often have a tendency to revisit situations that are done and over, bringing up old wounds and old arguments. Simplify your life, and once something is done, let it be done!Communication is an art. Like all art forms it requires practice to build skill. Begin practicing today!