I think everyone wants to know how to have good communication. It’s the foundation of good relationships – family, romantic, social, work, etc. However, this is not something offered as a school subject, is it?
This post is my attempt at making good communication clear and simple. Make no mistake, it may not be easy, but it should be clear and simple. This way, if you decide to put in the effort to do it, at least you know where to aim.
Good communication always (always!) has 2 sides, which means that the steps outlined below are useful both when you talk and when you listen.
So let’s get into it.
Good communication requires acknowledging the other person, as well as what they’ve said. Before engaging in any conversation, we need to come to grips with the following fact: the other person is different from us. Not better. Not worse. Different.
This means that they are unlikely to go along with everything we say, but it’s OK. They have a right to their own opinion, ideas and feelings.
So when someone speaks to us, the first thing we need to do is show that we’ve noticed. Then, we should occasionally show that we’ve heard them and are still listening. We can also make little acknowledgment sounds.
Looking down, looking away, texting or doing anything else that requires attention is the opposite of acknowledgment. In most cases, interrupting before the other person has paused isn’t good either.
When we speak, we need to address the other person and relate what we say to what they’ve said before.
Good communication creates mutual understanding as the foundation for cooperation and mutual appreciation.
As a listener, focus on what the speaker’s words mean to them. This is very important. Everybody (everybody!) always talks from their own perspective and always sees things as they affect them.
If the other person says anything about you, that, too, is what you, your words or your actions mean in their world. If you can, try to imagine yourself looking at the world through their eyes, even momentarily. This should give you better perspective on what you hear.
While you listen, pay attention to your feelings. Especially, notice when you get angry. Anger comes from judging another person by your standards. But the other person may have different standards altogether. When you feel anger, ask a clarifying question.
Specifically, use “divide and conquer” to clarify. State which part you’re clear about and which part needs a few more words to “click” for you.
As a speaker, you can follow the queues from your listener, like facial expression and questions, to reach understanding. To prevent negative emotional responses, stick to known facts and make it clear that everything else is just the way you see it.
Be extra careful when you mention the other person. Before you do, try to imagine how they might perceive your words. Most people’s ego is a lot smaller than they try to project outwardly. Be gentle and leave plenty of room for good intentions.
When your listener asks a question, it doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job explaining yourself. It means the listener has a difficulty consolidating what you’ve said with their view of the world. Just keep clarifying patiently.
It may help to ask back, “Which part wasn’t clear?” Work together towards mutual understanding.
Like acknowledgment, you can accept the person’s words and ideas, and you can accept the person. It’s important to do both and to make your acceptance clear.
In the previous step, you may not have reached complete understanding. It’s very difficult for a man to truly understand how child labor feels, but that’s OK. We can always accept the fact that the other person things or feels differently and let them know.
The aim of acceptance is to establish an “I’m OK, you’re OK” interaction. Someone who doesn’t completely understand us can still be a great friend and help us in life. So a man may not fear hospital delivery rooms, but can accept a woman’s fear who’s been through an ordeal in one.
When you listen, ask yourself, “What possible good intention was behind this?” The more you focus on finding the good stuff, the more positive the conversation will be for you, and subsequently for your partner.
One important aspect of conversations is emotions. Unfortunately, emotions are often buried in the way we say things, rather than being described clearly. When you listen, make extra effort to detect the underlying emotions and directly accept them, and the person feeling them.
It can be surprisingly calming to hear yourself say, “I see you’re angry with me. That’s OK. Tell me more”. There’s a sense of power in saying this, because it comes from a solid, unbreakable place.
Of course, it offers great relieve to the other person, who is likely afraid of your reaction. This can help “take things down a notch” later on and make it easier for you to share your side.
Accepting the other person’s emotions is called “empathy“. Accepting the other person as being OK, no matter what they say, is called “validation”. Do both.
For any relationship to work long term, we need to build trust. Trust is the belief that another person has our best interest at heart, but also that they know what our interest is, and when the time comes, they will do what we would want them to do.
For this to work, we need agreements. Simply put, they alleviate some of our future anxiety.
One of my relatives grew up in a home where the kids put their shoes on the porch and his mom would clean and shine them for the weekend. At his wife’s home, her dad did the shoe shining. When they got married and moved in together, both of them put their shoes on the porch, assuming the other would take care of them. Both were very disappointed when the weekend came…
So they said nothing, but still did the same the following week, and this led to another dose of disappointment. After the 3rd week, they finally had a talk about this, had a good laugh and agreed to each take care of their own shoes.
Having agreements is better than not having them, even if the agreements are not ideal. It adds a lot of certainty and mutual trust into the relationship by making things more predictable.
When working towards agreements, aim for “win-win“. This means that even if each person needs to give up a little, following the new agreement is still better for them.
My relative had to shine his own shoes, and so did his wife, but they both got shiny shoes, they both got a better partner and both had a good story to tell. Win-win.
Until now, I’ve mainly written about ways to handle or avoid friction. But to have good communication, it’s critical to focus on the positive. Be clear about what you do accept, what you do understand, what you agree to, and what you appreciate.
If you’ve lived past high school, you know that relationships can be hard and that you need to work on them all the time. Well, it’s the same for the other person, too.
Therefore, pay attention to the nice things they say and to the efforts they make to make things pleasant. Then, tell them you appreciate them for these things. It’s important that you only talk about what you honestly appreciate, which means that you need to focus on find such things.
Before you engage in conversation, say to yourself, “Find things you appreciate”. This will prime you subconscious mind to notice the good stuff and come up with good thoughts about your counterpart. Some of these things may be memories, but that’s OK.
Again, we can use an ego boost, so appreciate generously.
Good Communication is in your hands
With these tips, you can improve any communication. It may take a while to hone your skills. It may take a while to gain the trust of the other person. Keep at it.
Bonus tip: communication works better when you feel good. Pick a good time for delicate conversations, when you’re both alert and comfortable. Tired and hungry is not a good place to start, so think Saturday morning, not Friday when you come home from work.
Give this a try, then come back and share your experience and feedback.