When couples approach me for counselling regarding their marriage or relationships, their solutions can only be found though good communication. Our communication goes way beyond talking but includes our facial expressions, our body posture, our senses and most importantly, our ability to listen.

Relational communication is the process by which information about ideas, emotions, observations, thoughts, and opinions are conveyed to another person. Communication has two parts. The first part is how we communicate this information, which needs to be presented on an open and simulating manner. The second part requires that we don’t only listen to the words but we also ‘listen’ to what they are saying with their facial expressions and body language. We can also ‘listen’ with our other senses of touch, smell and even taste. In sever stress situations people often say that they could taste the fear.

Here are a few tips that we can use to improve our personal communication:

  1. We need to look at the person as we speak. This will help us gauge how the information is being received. Good eye contact without staring can help convey sincerity, openness, honesty and authenticity.
  2. Try not make closed statements or state facts as this closes the conversation. Rather than saying, ‘I don’t like him’ rather say, ‘I am struggling to like him. Do you also find him unpleasant?’ By ending with a question it leaves the conversation open for an exchange of ideas, opinions and thoughts.
  3. Where ever possible we should not use ‘you’ statements. A ‘you’ statement provokes arguments and what we need is communication. Rather than saying, ‘you make me mad’, try using an ‘I’ statement. ‘I am beginning to feel cross’. The ‘I’ statement allows the other person to evaluate and respond rather than having to defend themselves.
  4. There is always vulnerability with deep level conversation because we are expressing emotion. We can make statements like ‘I feel unhappy about …..’  ‘I am struggling to understand …’ The ‘I’ statement draws to other person towards us rather than cause the listener set up defensive barriers.
  5. I have often heard a parent reprimand a child by saying, ‘Stop that!’  What is that? We often assume they know what we are talking about. Be specific about what you are referring to. As example say, ‘Stop hanging onto me. It makes me feel uncomfortable’
  6. When they are unable to catch our meaning, we should rephrase rather than repeat what we have just said.

So how should we be listening? Here are a few ideas.

  1. We should stop what we are dong and look at the person talking to us. We need to look at their facial expression, their body language, sense with all our senses and ‘listen to the meaning’ of what they are trying to say, not just the words.
  2. We need to guard against jumping to conclusion of what we think they are thinking.
  3. To the degree that we are involved with our own internal dialogue is the degree to which we stop listening to what others are saying. The person talking will sense this and feel ‘unheard’.
  4. We have a tendency to receive every new idea negatively. We take all new ideas and we process it against what we believe to be true. If it does not fit with what we believe we tend to dismiss it.  We should rather explore their point of view before rejecting it. Maybe they are seeing something we are not seeing.
  5. We can create curiosity and interest by exploring why do they think that way. We should ask the question, ‘what have they experienced to see it that way?’
  6. Explore new ideas or concepts. So they come up with the idea of eating condensed milk on toast with cheese. Rather than rejecting the idea, wonder what it will taste like and maybe try it. Then express your opinion.
  7. Answer a question with a question. This will draw out ideas, opinions and thoughts.

To keep our relationships fresh, exciting and simulating we need to talk and listen. Good communication is not about one-upmanship. Good communication that keeps our personal relationships fresh produces something new and exciting. Good communication develops a deepening and fulfilling relationship.