Communication is an important part, if not the most important part, of any relationship. The way you communicate has a major impact on your ability to get along with the various people in your life – spouses, children, coworkers, friends, and neighbors. When communication breaks down, relationships suffer. According to recent research, poor communication is the number one reason why couples (and friendships) break up.
Any relationship worth having experiences conflict at some point. The conflict isn’t the problem (conflict is a natural part of intimacy), how the situation is handled is the determining factor in whether the relationship will deepen or be torn apart.
Interpersonal communication styles are developed from life experiences. Your responses are often so automatic that it’s easy to fall into the trap of using ineffective communication. Being an effective communicator requires some work; it requires being mindful about your style and being honest about your role in the conversation. As George Bernard Shaw stated, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
While there is a long list of behaviors that lead to ineffective communication, below are a few that may be the biggest culprits. Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios?
A big mistake that can shut down communication is when one person makes an assumption about what another person has said or done. You’ve heard the old saying, when you assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. While corny, the saying holds true. Assuming is a prescription for trouble.
Recently, I heard a story about one friend who blocked another friend on Facebook because she assumed the person made a post about her. Without discussing it, making her feelings known, and hearing what the other person had to say, she accused, tried and convicted the person, all the time the accused had no idea why she was being sentenced. This person offers more courtesy to someone in the judicial system (innocent until proven guilty) than she did to someone she “cared” about. This is an example of what happens when we assume to know a situation or create our own version of it instead of finding out the truth.
As Miguel Ruiz wrote in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, “If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”
More times than not, nothing people say or do is about you. When you remove the assumption that something is about you, you stop taking it personally and open the door for honest communication.
Projection involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings. When you project your feelings onto another person, you give your voice to the other person and create a scenario that may not actually exist.
For example, if you have done something to a friend for which you feel guilty, your friend may not agree with your feelings or be upset with you, but you project your guilt onto that person and then believe he or she is angry at you. Anything that person says or does leads you to believe he or she is acting from a place of anger and you respond to the imaginary situation. This is a distorted vision of reality that will undoubtedly create a communication issue.
How often do you believe someone should know what you are thinking or what you want or need without telling him or her? This is a common complaint when discussing communication issues – the expectation that he should have known. How could someone know what you want if you don’t tell her? Stop expecting and start stating!
Keeping Feelings to Yourself
Do you believe that it is better to keep your mouth shut and avoid conflict? Keeping things bottled up inside is not the way to develop or sustain a loving relationship. If you have something to say, say it. Effective communicating means just that … to communicate. I pride myself on my ability to let people know how I feel. Friends and loved ones may not necessarily like to hear my expressions, but like it or not, no one can ever say that I didn’t communicate my feelings. Open communication also shows that you love and respect someone enough to trust them with your deepest thoughts.
Just as important, if you have something good to say about your partner, say it often. Praise and appreciation are usually unspoken and they go a long way in cultivating a relationship.
In addition to discussing your feelings, you must have the ability to enable others to talk about theirs. Stop worrying about what you are going to say next and listen to what is being said to you. Listening, empathizing and sympathizing are skills that can strengthen a relationship. Really hearing what someone says and then being able to put yourself in his or her shoes may create an understanding that can diffuse any situation.
Own Up to Your Part
Two of the most powerful words are “I’m sorry” and yet so many people have trouble saying them. Admitting the error of your ways does not make you weak, to the contrary, it shows your strength. People twist stories, shout louder, and reject others simply because they can’t admit they are wrong. Don’t be one of those people.
The importance of effective communication becomes obvious when you see all the ways ineffective communication can harm a relationship. Taking the time to recognize your style and improve your interpersonal skills is definitely worth the effort. As Anthony Robbins said, “The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”