Learn to communicate more effectively to resolve conflict and deepen your relationships.
It’s an ongoing art-form to learn how to communicate more effectively in order to deal with conflict and increase intimacy and connection.
Most couples come in to therapy interested in improving the way that they communicate with each other. It may be that they either don't communicate their needs and avoid conflict OR that they have endless conflict that doesn't get resolved. In either case, it can feel like they’re not heard, understood and cared for.
Being a good “Engaged Listener” is key to improving communication, so let's start there.
1. Listen Attentively:
It’s much more effective in resolving conflict to take turns so that you can fully dedicate your time to each role. When actively listening it’s important to spend your time focused on understanding and caring what the other person is saying. If instead, you’re coming up with your own defense or rebuttal, you lose track of what’s important to the other person, and subsequently they don’t feel valued. This is when couples get in endless escalating conflicts that never seem to resolve.
2. Deepen Understanding:
One of the tasks of being an engaged listener, is asking questions for clarification to better understand the other person and learn more about yourself in the process. What frequently happens in this area are couples who use questions to devalue the other person and/or share their own perspective of what happened. However, to create deeper understanding while in conflict, it’s necessary to withhold your own perspective for a period of time until the other person feels fully heard. Allowing yourself space to be curious about another and what triggers you about the situation, can enhance your relationships.
3. Express Empathy:
True empathy is about both understanding and caring. Start by imagining what it's like for the other person from their perspective, not yours. Communicate what you imagine it’s like being them, compassionately like, "I hear you felt really hurt by what I said.” This communication doesn’t deny that you have a different perspective, it just honors their perspective; two people can have the same exact experience and feel very differently about it. One is not right and the other is wrong. We also communicate volumes non-verbally so make sure to make appropriate eye contact, and not the kind where you role your eyes or stare them down.
4. Communicate Understanding:
Once you’ve heard them, gotten clarification and expressed empathy, it’s important to communicate your understanding of what they’ve just told you. Tell them what you've learned about their point of view with the intent of making sure you’ve understood THEM accurately. Have you gotten the main points? If you didn't get it accurately or hone in on the main point of what they had to say, get clarification and go through the process again.
Being a “Mindful Speaker” helps move conflict forward to reach a more positive resolution.
Staying focused on one issue at a time naturally emphasizes what's most important without overwhelming the listener. This isn’t a time to regurgitate everything that’s ever bothered you about the other person. That’s actually a below-the-belt tactic to win an argument instead of conveying what’s most important in the present moment.
2. Avoid Attacking:
Make sure you're calm enough to engage in a conversation with vulnerability and without putting the other person down. Attacking someone else likely puts them on the defensive, a more difficult place to actually value what you’re saying. Attacking includes blaming, shaming, accusing, and name-calling. Instead, try to find some positive aspect of the situation or how the other person handled things, and name that.
3. Learn About Yourself:
Using mindfulness and compassion, notice what triggers you from unmet needs in the past or present. Be open to discovering something about yourself that you didn’t otherwise know. We are both hurt and healed in relationships.
4. Express Yourself:
Express yourself without holding the other person solely responsible for your feelings. Of course, people have impact on us but someone else might have had a very different interpretation of the events. Try throwing in some “I statements” where you clearly own your response to the situation. For example, “I felt hurt when you were late.” You’re expressing your feelings based on the facts of what happened, not your interpretation of them. Be careful not to throw in judgements and make it a covert blaming statement like, “I felt devalued when you disregarded my time by flaking on me. I feel you’re an insensitive jerk.”
Take turns and practice:
Start with a topic that is a 5 or 6 out of 10 in terms of intensity and importance. When you lead with vulnerability with someone you trust and care for, it's more likely to resolve in a more satisfying way and more quickly. It's often not about problem solving but about feeling heard and speaking your truth, with kindness.
Take a moment to reflect on which one of these communication skills you'd like to improve for yourself. How can you become a better partner, friend or co-worker, REGARDLESS of how the other person responds?
For handouts on these steps click here:
"… Stop Angry, Hostile Fighting and Immediately Structure More Effective Interaction." Couples Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.couplesinstitute.com/utilize-the-initiator-inquirer-process-i....
Gottman, John Mordechai., and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. London: Orion, 2000. Print.