If your communication directly and clearly states your needs and wants and if you consistently practice listening not only to the content of other's words but to their underlying meaning and emotion, then you are well on your way to communicating effectively. But if you are like most of us, you were not taught how to be effective in communicating with others. How many of us can honestly say that we are consistently successful when communicating our deepest needs to others?
The art of communication is no easy task. Most of us we grew up without much training for this vital component of interpersonal relations. Think back to the very old and outdated adage of, "children should be seen and not heard." This idea certainly did not promote the necessity of teaching our children to express their wants, needs and emotions in a clear and understandable way. We often wonder why our children are more apt to use texting over face-to-face conversation as a means of communication. Do we as their parents model good communications skills?
Many people tell me one of their key issues involves problems with communication. The first step I take is to help them understand the basics of good communication. We all want desperately to be understood in our communication with others, especially with partners and family. However, without practice in effective communication skills our needs, desires, feelings, thoughts, and actions cannot be well expressed or understood.
One communication basic is sending an "I" message. The next time you want to express a need or want to your partner, carefully pay attention to how you begin. Eye contact is a must! Then, if you find you are using words like, "You always..." or "You never..." you are making one of the most common communication mistakes. This puts the listener in defense mode and blocks them from hearing your true meaning with compassion and understanding. Try using instead, "I want..." or "I need..." and then make your point in a clear, concise way. A good next step is differentiating between your thoughts and feelings. You might think you are stating a feeling when you say, "I feel like..." but this is really a thought. Try keeping it simple by beginning with a single feeling; for example, "I feel sad when you don't spend time with me." These two little changes might not seem like much but they can be the beginning of healthier and stronger relationships.
Heidi B. Roeder, MS, LPC, LMFT was a former therapist at Franco Psychological Associates, P.C.