In a previous post, I gave some tips on the tools necessary for effective communication and I used a workplace example. Today, I want to talk about communication again but from a different angle. This time I want to talk about the importance of communicating effectively in interpersonal relationships. Many relationships are irreparably damaged because of poor communication. Here are some tips to help you to communicate better with those who mean the most to you (and even those who don’t):
- Be honest. Say how you feel without being disrespectful or by attacking the other person. Attack the issue and not the person. Don’t allow the discussion to degenerate into name calling and belittling. Remember, you can’t un-say things and the other person can’t un-hear them. Harsh words are weapons and they cut deep. Once the issue has passed, whatever damage was caused by your words will remain for a long time or possibly permanently.
- Focus on the matter at hand. Keep the discussion centred on the current situation. If previously unresolved issues exist, bring them up at another time – don’t conflate the issues. If you have multiple issues to address, tackle them one by one. Try to resolve each one before moving on. However, if you find one topic is too contentious, it’s ok to agree to table it for a future discussion, when you have had time to think it through some more. Don’t bring up things from the past and don’t use generalizations like “always” and “never”. No one does anything “always” or “never”. When emotions are high, it is easy to resort to hyperbole but it is not helpful.
- Listen! I can’t stress this enough. Give the other person your undivided attention and do not, I repeat, do not interrupt them while they are speaking. Too often we listen in order to reply rather than to understand. You will get your turn to speak so allow the other person to finish their point before you attempt to speak. If the issue relates to something that you did wrong, resist the urge to defend yourself. If you have caused harm to someone else you ought not to be defensive, instead take responsibility and offer a sincere apology. In a previous post I shared some thoughts on how to apologize.
- Sometimes you will have to agree to disagree. You won’t always see eye to eye and on some issues, you may never be able to agree. In those cases, just come to a consensus that you hold differing views and neither of you will be swayed. Agree to respect the other person’s viewpoint even though you disagree with it. If the issue is not a deal-breaker just let it go.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say! Ask for what you want. Don’t assume the other person knows what you need/want. As my fifth-grade teacher put it, “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me”. You shouldn’t expect other people to be mind readers. Very often they are more than willing to oblige but they just have no idea what you want. Often people are unhappy because of unmet expectations but if you have never communicated your expectations, how can you expect someone else to know what they are?
Communication is such an essential part of any relationship that it is imperative that we learn to do it well. I hope these pointers will help you to improve your communication with those around you.