People With These 3 Communication Skills Have The Healthiest, Happiest Relationships

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man and woman talking to each other

Investing in effective communication skills leads to healthier and happier relationships. How do successful couples do it?

As soon as my coaching call finished, I saw an email from a client 20 minutes before our session saying he was ill, so could we reschedule?

I hadn’t seen his email. And in our "Hi, how are you?" verbal opening, he hadn’t repeated his request to postpone. Our session felt less rich and connected than normal.

Seeing his email afterward, I felt dismayed and reflected on the times I haven’t asked for what I needed in my wish to be flexible or get the job done.

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I held a belief then that asking for what I needed meant being selfish. I’ve since learned that asking for what I need is important, particularly in intimate relationships.

Notice a word in that sentence: ask.

People with these 3 effective communication skills are often in happy and healthy relationships.

1. They ask for what they need and want.

To ask is to make a request. A request can be met with "yes," "no," or a renegotiation. It gives information to others about what you need and gives them the opportunity to meet it.

But what if they judge you as too needy or inadequate? That may happen.

On the other hand, what if you act without what you need to do well? You'll perform poorly, and people may judge you as incompetent.

Others may not judge you at all, they may respect you for being assertive or feel relieved that you've explained your perspective.

Remember that asking isn’t the same as demanding. A demand accepts only one answer: "yes." Demanding often puts people’s backs up.

Say you've asked your lover to postpone your planned vacation for two weeks because of a work crisis. He may not be able to give you what you need or, for various reasons, not want to, right then.

And because you made the request, you must respond graciously and creatively to whatever answer you get. Maybe there's room for renegotiation of timing or location. But maybe not.

If that’s the case, you'll need to search for other ways to get your needs met. That can be hard to remember.

Asking doesn’t guarantee you'll get your needs met but if you don’t ask, the odds are much lower.

2. They can distinguish between their needs and wants.

Remember that Rolling Stones’ song, "You Can’t Always Get What You Want"? Asking for everything we want may backfire.

I can identify so many things I want — more money, a slimmer body, and more sunshine. Your list of wants is long, too, isn’t it?

The list of what we need is shorter. It’s what, if we lack, we will not survive or be able to manage our lives.

As a newly-separated mother, I knew that I needed time for myself each week. Without it, I would become so brittle and shrill that no one would want to be around me.

I asked my separated husband for that in drafting our co-parenting schedule. In it, my Sundays were child-free and work-free. (My husband had Saturdays for himself.)

Looking back, I see those hours allowed me to recover my center and recharge for the coming week. Not every parent has an intense need for quiet time.

For some, this might be a "want" or not show on their list at all. For me, it was a need.

Being able to distinguish between our wants and our needs is important. It lets us ask for what we need.

Being clear on our precise needs also helps us keep going and seek other avenues if the first person we ask says "no."

If we don’t ask, what happens? We keep going as best we can.

But over time, we won’t be able to keep doing well. Those who depend on us — whether it's our children, partner, friends, or colleagues — will be disappointed in our performance.

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As if we aren’t getting enough oxygen, we’ll lose momentum, energy, and enthusiasm, until we're only grinding on each day until we burn out.

It’s the most selfless and loving people who struggle most with asking for what they need.

It’s a skill you can learn in just 4 simple steps:

Start with identifying needs. 

What do I need in this relationship? Sort out wants from needs.

Am I getting what I need? If not, what is my request? Time, acknowledgment, resources, or new options?

Practice making requests of people around you.

Keep in mind that they can say "yes," "no," or renegotiate. Start small.

Pay attention to both the "what" and the "how" of your request.

If you're making a challenging request, practice the words you will use, and listen for your tone of voice.

Neutral works and cordial works. Hostile won’t get you far.

Notice the responses you get. 

"Yes" is easy to receive. "No" and "renegotiate" are trickier to handle skillfully. Practice responding neutrally to "no." 

Take a breath. You may want to paraphrase what the other person just said, to give yourself time to think: "So, you’re saying you can’t do this for these reasons..."

If you’re stumped about how to respond, try, "I need to think about this, let’s revisit tomorrow," to leave the door open.

3. They offer help.

Our willingness to help others get their needs met is also crucial. Without this, our relationships can be lopsided and resentments may creep in.

Offering anything — support, time, and resources — involves a willingness to give the other something of ourselves. This generosity of spirit helps relationships grow and requires that we pay attention to what’s happening to our loved ones.

While "Is there anything I can do?" is wonderful, it can also be fantastically supportive to say, "You look like you could use a hug, is that right?" or, "Would it help if I called the plumber?"

Acting from our generous heart to offer means to hold out something with our open hands, leaving the choice of whether to accept to the other person.

Don’t assume they need what we want to give them or expect them to take what we are offering. They decide.

This can be difficult if we feel sure that our suggestion will help them. Again, practice. Practice making offers and not being attached to the response.

So there are the effective communication skills you need to learn: ask, need, and offer.

Which one do you use most skillfully now? Which one is hardest for you? How will your relationships change if you get better at using them?

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Karen Kristjanson is a life coach and the author of Co-Parenting from the Inside Out: Voices of Moms and Dads. Learn more at her website.