3. Ask, don’t guess. If you get a response that seems unusual or inappropriate to what you said, (you think you’re giving a complement, and your partner looks confused, hurt or angry; or you think you’re stating objective facts and your partner looks like he or she disagrees; you’re angry, but your partner is smiling) ask a gentle question for example, “I thought I was giving you a complement, but you look annoyed. Did I say something wrong?” or, “Gee, I thought you’d be happy to hear this but you look upset. Please tell me what you’re thinking.” Or, “I’m angry about what you just said, but you’re smiling. Did I misunderstand you?” Or, just “Do you agree?”
4. Don’t talk too long. If your partner becomes fidgety or looks off into space as you talk, either what you’re saying is emotionally uncomfortable, the time is not good for talking (business pressures, stress, the ball game is on), your partner is bored or you’ve been talking too long.
If you think you’ve been talking too long or your partner is bored, invite him or her to comment: “what do you think?” or ”Do you see it the same way?” or perhaps “Am I talking too much (or too fast)?” If you think it’s a bad time, just ask: “You look distracted. Is this a good time to talk about this?” (If it is a bad time, then try again at a different time.)
5. Look for confusion. When you’re paying attention as you speak, incomprehension and confusion are also easy to spot. If your partner begins to have a blank or glassy-eyed look, or looks worried or confused, you may be putting out too many ideas all at once, or you may not be explaining your thoughts clearly enough. Again, ask a question: “Am I making sense to you?” “Am I going too fast?” or, “Do you have any questions?” Sometimes, just a pause in what you are saying will give your partner the room he or she needs to ask a question and get his or her confusion cleared up.
6. Don’t blame. Blaming your listener (for example, by insisting that he or she just isn’t paying enough attention) will only exacerbate the problem. Instead, ask a question, such as “I don’t think I’m explaining this clearly. Have I lost you?” Or, “Am I bringing up too many things at once?” Phrasing the questions to show that you’re looking for ways to improve your style and clarity invites cooperation and encourages teamwork.
By using the above guidelines, you can find out immediately, as you are speaking, if you are communicating well with your partner. If you see signs of confusion or trouble, you can put things back on track quite easily, whether you’re speaking to your partner, a child, or anyone else.
When you and your partner know how to hear and understand each other, you’ll find that any struggle can be solved. No matter what the issue is, it is never more important than keeping your partnership healthy and productive. As long as the two of you are a functioning team who can work together to solve problems and resolve issues, you’ll be able to deal with whatever comes along as the years go by.