Do you sometimes, in trying to help someone in conversation, only seem to make matters worse? Not sure what to say during those awkward moments, how to say it, or when to say nothing at all? Do you avoid telling your partner how you really feel (even if they ask) because every time you do you feel misunderstood, frustrated, incomplete, unheard or worse?
Everybody understands the importance of communication in relationships. However, most people confuse communicating with talking or giving advice, often with painful consequences and frustration all round.
We all know what it’s like to talk to someone when they’re not really listening, when they interrupt us or tell us what we should do; we usually walk away from those conversations feeling unheard and frustrated.
The truth is that it’s very easy to communicate in a way that is respectful and supportive even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying. Read on for 10 top tips to communicate in a way that leaves you and your partner feeling great no matter what the conversation.
If you’ve ever talked to someone and felt great afterwards, you may have wondered how they do it. What makes some people great to talk to? The answer may surprise you – they’re great listeners.
Even though we all have a basic human need to be heard, listening seems to be a skill that a lot of people never get to learn; this is the biggest cause for tension in relationships. Thankfully, effective listening is a skill that is very easy to learn and with a little bit of practice you can get a lot better very quickly.
Here are the top 10 tips to communicate more effectively with your partner:
- Don’t say ‘I know how you feel.’ You can’t ever know what someone else is feeling, even if you’ve had the exact same experience as them. Instead, just listen; if you agree with what they’re saying you can say ‘I agree …’ and if you don’t understand or agree with them, say ‘I appreciate that you feel…’
- Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel the way they do or trivialise their feelings e.g. ‘Don’t be so upset about this!’ Instead, just listen to them and keep your judgements of how you think they should feel to yourself. Say ‘I appreciate that this is upsetting you’ and see how that changes everything.
- Don’t interrupt them while they’re talking; it’s disrespectful and most people find this distracting; instead, hold your tongue (and your quirky comments and interjections) and really listen to what they have to say.
- Don’t assume they want their problem fixed. Most people have a desire to be heard before anything else and this is often a major cause of conflict between men and women; often men by their nature want to fix things when women want to be heard. Instead, ask them ‘How can I best support you?’ They may need nothing from you in that moment other than to hear them. Once they feel heard they’re much more likely to be able to resolve their own problem.
- Don’t think about what you’re going to say next while they’re still talking. If you just listen and remain present and open with them the words will come – or won’t be needed; the act of listening is a gift in itself.
- Don’t assume that you know what’s best for them or that you have their answers. Because you can never know what’s best for someone else, stop yourself whenever you have the urge to say ‘You should (or shouldn’t)…’ Instead, assume that only they know what’s best for them; ask them what they think is best. If they ask you what you think they should do, ask first ‘What would you like to do?’ and then (if they still want to know what you think) say ‘What I would do is …’ or ‘What I did in a similar situation …’; make sure that they know you’ll support them whatever they decide.
- Don’t make it about you by, as soon as they’re done (or even worse, interrupt them to) immediately tell them about a time when something similar happened to you. Instead, listen listen listen …
- Don’t judge or blame them; even if you think they were totally responsible for the situation or that they acted inappropriately, empathise with them with ‘I appreciate that you feel really upset by this…’
- Don’t lie if they ask you what you think. Be honest with them, with compassion; make sure they know that you appreciate that they may have a different point of view.
- Don’t assume that they’re open to feedback. Sometimes we just need to get stuff out of our system and when we are emotionally very upset we cannot really hear and process feedback objectively. If you do have feedback first ask yourself if this is about you judging them or wanting to sound clever or if you really believe it may help them. Ask them if they’re open to hearing any feedback before you just dump in on them; if they say ‘no’ that means ‘no’.
You may have noticed that these tips all have one thing in common: to listen; it really is the best gift you can give someone and it is without a doubt the best relationship-builder you’ll ever find – try it for yourself; if you’re lucky enough to know someone who’s a good listener, you know exactly what I’m talking about!