“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” –Peter Drucker
Last week I discussed blocks to communication. This week we will explore five ways to open the lines of communication.
- The first key to effective communication is curiosity. As I discussed last week, our partner is like an iceberg. We are not able to see the thoughts, emotions and memories which lie underneath the waterline. What is hidden influences the behaviors and actions that we are able to see. When we become curious about our partner’s actions and behaviors we can gain insight into what has been hidden. Curiosity is not interrogation, nor is it making excuses for behaviors. Genuine curiosity is getting to know and understand things about each other which deepens the relationship and connection.
- The second key is active listening. What often looks like listening is actually just waiting to talk. Active listening is focusing on what your partner is saying and verifying that what you heard was the message your partner was sending. Pay attention to what is going on in your head while your partner is talking. If you are making a mental list of things that you want to say when they stop talking, then you are not truly listening.
- The third way to improve communication is to talk positively with your partner. In John Gottman’s research he found that in happy and healthy relationships there was at least a five to one ratio of positive to negative communication. This means for every one criticism there need to be at least five positive things said. While nobody is usually counting the positive and negative comments they are making throughout the day, it is something to take notice to. When the ‘Four Horsemen’ are in a relationship regularly, the ratio of positive to negative is often much less than 5:1. Let your partner know you appreciate them and build up the positives.
- The fourth key is to monitor your own reaction. If what your partner is saying is upsetting, be aware of what is going on emotionally inside. When we become emotionally triggered we switch from responsive to reactive. In reactive mode, we become defensive and critical of the other person. Effective communication is not possible when in a reactive mindset. When we are responsive we are able to look at a situation with more objectivity and come up with better solutions. If you find yourself becoming reactive, ask for a break to calm down and make sure to come back to the conversation when you are able to respond effectively.
- The final key is honesty. In a relationship, there are often ‘white lies’ that turn into bigger issues. If you truly love your partner it is crucial to be honest. This is more difficult than it sounds, because many times we are not even honest with ourselves. We tend to minimize or deny that things bother us, when deep down they do. When we are honest with ourselves and are then honest with our partner, issues can be discussed before they fester into big resentments.
While all relationships have their moments of conflict, effective communication is one of the most important ways to address and deal with issues. Taking time to improve communication is one of the best ways to improve happiness.