There are few things that are vital to making a relationship work. Most people would say that communication is vital and I would agree. However, as I watch people communicate or attempt to communicate, I realize there are communication skills that aren’t readily recognized necessary components of effective communication. There maybe be more, but here are a few that I’ve been thinking about.
I think we can all agree that listening is vital. But, what are you listening to? Or, more importantly, to what are you paying attention? Listening is not just hearing the verbal words. It’s noticing the nuances in how the words are conveyed. Listening is paying attention to the emotion that is expressed with the verbal. Listening is creating time and space for curiosity about the emotion, choice of words, or overall presentation of the message. It is about sitting back and letting go of your own agenda to absorb the full message, verbal and non-verbal, of your partner or whoever you are communication with.
2- Content vs context
This goes hand in hand with the above. So many couples are determined to argue the content instead of discuss the context. In watching couples communicate, I notice that many are so very fixated on the words, that they miss the meaning. Once upon a time, I watched a couple discuss an issue they disagreed on. The husband shared his point, the wife disagree, and the husband attempted to share that it was his perspective, and the wife continued to say that he was wrong. I watched, fully intrigued at the display. He began to get very quiet and share less and less conviction about his opinion. His wife became very defensive saying that she gets tired of people thinking what her husband thought. I tried to describe the context: shutting down and defensiveness. In this example, whether or not the husband was right in his opinion was hardly the issue. The context or HOW the discussion was happening was the issue. Do you notice HOW you argue or discuss difficult matters? Most of the time, arguments occur in the same pattern. It’s recognizing ineffective patterns that leads to effective communication.
No matter what you feel, your partner has feelings too. And they are valid, even if you don’t understand them. One of the most important parts of communicating is letting the other person know that you accept what they feel as making sense. If people feel un-allowed to feel their feelings, no amount of effective problem-solving can be had.
This is key and often missed. Do you know your own communication? Not what you said. People are pretty good at knowing what they said. But, do you know HOW you said it. Are you aware of your non-verbal communication? Do you know how your tone was? Do you know realize you rolled your eyes? Sometimes, we are in the heat of the moment and so focused at getting our words out, that we miss how we are saying things or what other messages we might be sending.
5- Two Rights, Two Experiences
Part of communication is letting others give you feedback on your own communication. I tell people that there are always two rights, no wrongs. Two people have two different experiences during the same conversation. Can we be open to feedback about our own communication? If someone tells you that you are being mean, it may be important to realize that there may be truth to this and that your significant other is experiencing you as such. Being open to feedback helps to focus more on the context and less on the content.
These are just a few but when missed, can make communication extremely difficult. So, check yourself and try focusing on a few of these in your next efforts at communication to see if anything changes.