How you say it matters! There are many good reasons to practice effective communication. For one, communicating the right way can grow a relationship, preventing defensiveness and getting past the hard parts of the conversation and on to exploring and resolving the heart of an issue. On both ends of a dialogue, it may be difficult to stay focused on the problem at hand; an accuser has to present the problem sensitively while the blamed must face it rather than throw back an irrelevant retort. Effective communication also helps build one’s inner concepts and beliefs—words are more substantial when expressed aloud rather than in the form of thought, and talking through ideas can help people to organize and re–evaluate them. It is important for us to build our verbalization in such situations to effectively convey our thoughts to each other and ourselves.
Here is a list of 10 steps that we hope can help us begin the journey toward more honest, open and productive conversations with each other as we face the challenges that aﬀect our marriages, our families, and our personal and professional lives:
- BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DISCUSS: In the book Difﬁcult Conversations: How to Discuss What what Matters Most, the authors Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Shela Heen and Roger Fisher (Penguin Books; revised edition, 2010) suggest that the first step of a difficult conversation is to sort out the three conversations: 1) The “What Happened Conversation” (defining the truth, intentions and fault); 2) The Feelings Conversation; and 3) The Identity Conversation. Thinking about these three things can help you clarify your intent before entering the conversation.
- PRACTICE EMPATHY: Empathize with the other person. The first step to improving communication is seeing from the other person’s point of view. It will help you understand how to find a “win-win” solution to the issue at hand.
- THE CENTRAL PERSON IS “I”: Using “I” Statements will help you own your own feelings and help you avoid blaming others for your problem. When you use I–Statements you want to think about five things: 1. be specific, 2. avoid “oughts” and “shoulds,” 3. avoid labels, 4. avoid disguised I–Statements such as “I feel like… ,” or “I feel that… ,” 5. and include your feelings and not just your thoughts. The traditional formula for constructing a good I–Statement is comprises of three parts: 1. I feel… (insert the feeling word), 2. when….(tell what specific instance caused the feeling), and 3. I would like… (tell what you want to happen instead). A good example is “I feel angry when you leave your socks on the ﬂ oor. I would really appreciate it if you would please help me and put your dirty clothes in your hamper.”
- VALIDATE AND ACKNOWLEDGE FIRST, EXPLAIN LATER: Avoid defending yourself or taking things personally. When God asked Adam why he was naked, he didn’t acknowledge his contribution to the problem at hand; instead, he blamed the problem on God and Eve. He basically said that it was the woman whom you gave me who caused my problem. Adam did not see what his part in the problem was.
- LET GO, AND LET GOD: Don’t jump in right away to give advice or try to solve the problem. By jumping in to solve the problem you are not allowing the other person ownership. Each person needs the freedom to gain personal insight and awareness through self-reﬂection, and through their own relationship with God.
- TAKE A TIME–OUT: Before you argue, take a period of time to cool off and convene at another time to continue the discussion. Both parties must also agree to drop the conversation at that time and agree on when to come back and finish the discussion.
- PRACTICE MIND–BODY UNITY: Be mindful of your body language, including your tone, facial expressions and body movements. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it, that will help you communicate better.
- FORGIVE, FORGET YOU FORGAVE, AND FORGIVE AGAIN: Forgiveness does not take away the consequences for bad behavior and allowing bad or abusive behavior to continue is called enabling; it is not forgiveness. However, it is not helpful to bring up feelings of resentment from past mistakes. Forgiveness is about putting aside the past, remaining in the present and sticking to the problem at hand. It is about empowering each person to take responsibility for their own actions, whatever that may be, so that the discussion can take a higher tone and fi nd a positive resolution.
- MAINTAIN CONFIDENTIALITY: Unless someone is in danger, don’t share your problems with people who are not in a position to help the situation. Trust is very important in a relationship. If there is going to be honest and open communication in your relationships, knowing that your problems won’t be discussed with everyone is very important. It also increases trust, which is the foundation for every good relationship.
- THINK WIN-WIN: Based on your discussion and your mutual understanding of the problem, come up with a solution that you think will address both of your concerns and provide a solution that will be a positive step forward for both parties.
Eﬀective communication involves not only eﬀectively communicating your opinion but also being able to look internally at what makes the conversation diﬃcult for you. Understanding your internal rollercoaster, in regards to that diﬃcult conversation, will allow you to be able to see someone else’s stance with more empathy.
Empathy will help you better understand each other’s positions and interests and ultimately discover a mutually beneficial. Addressing and solving our “pink elephants” will help us move forward in our lives.