By Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC
Communication is an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it? We’re meant to use it to share thoughts, ideas, and feelings to help us, yet it is a tool that can, unfortunately, tear us apart. When we are having relationship issues, once we look past the hurt and stop playing the blame game, the first place we look is at communication, and how it fix it. And what a great feat that is.
Be more open. Be direct. Let the other person know what you want. Don’t attack. Don’t raise your voice. Don’t shut down. So many rules.
What we fail to recognize is that communication is hard. Really hard, sometimes. Our emotions get in the way of truly sharing what it is we are thinking, oftentimes leaving us in a place of half-truths and omissions of our actual feelings. We’re left feeling unsatisfied with our conversations and don’t think we accomplished much.
So many individuals I’ve spoken with like to say that they are ‘great communicators’ and that they do not ‘let [their] feelings get the best of [them].’ Chances are, they’re wrong. Their emotions more than likely seep out in other ways. And that’s okay. As much as we, as a society, pride ourselves as being emotionless, sharing our emotional experience is actually one of the best ways to communicate.
It’s sad to think that we do not share because we think that we will look ‘weak’ or like the other person ‘won’ if we are actually honest about how we’re feeling. What type of world do we live in, if we cannot share our most raw and natural experiences with one another? Imagine a world based in truth and respect for one another.
And here is the truth about communication: We can be as open and direct as possible, but we cannot actually be successful at it if we do not have receptive listeners. I will say it again, in a different way, this time: Communication is reciprocal.
First, we must have those brave enough to indulge in the process of taking the initial step. The step of honesty and candidness. The initiator must be willing to be sincere enough to provide others with their vulnerabilities, and trust that those they are sharing with will reciprocate.
Next, the listeners must take a stance of objectivity. A part where they are not responding from a place of judgment, but a place of acceptance. We might not like what we are hearing sometimes, but if someone is going to be brave enough to give you their pure self, you must be acquiescent enough to hear them out, completely.
When the initial communicator is giving their input and perspective, the listener must find out if they are even interpreting the message correctly. We are asking the listener to be active in their listening skills. Ask questions to gain insight and not be afraid to be wrong, because the listener might be. You’re giving the initiator the opportunity to help you understand. Once you’re on the same page with understanding, you might then ask if you can give your ideas or observations. This then gives the initiator the opportunity to give you the same respect by asking you questions and making sure they understand you. At this point is when true conversation happens.
Here’s another novel idea: while you’re wrapped up in your reciprocal conversation of gaining insights and understanding, include how the situation, hearing about the experience, or your initial impressions make you feel. Use emotion words. Go another step further and guess how the other person might be feeling. Again, this is their opportunity to let you know if you are spot on with how they are digesting the situation.
People feel heard. People feel understood. People feel supported. Isn’t this what we’re all seeking when it comes to communication and relationships?
So, if you’re looking to improve your communication with your loved one, your colleague, your friend, whomever it may be, please take the time to see what happens in your conversations. Take an inside look at how you listen, how your share, how you emote. These are key indicators in figuring out if your communication is effective.
One more thing. This blog did not touch on communication via social medium, text, or email. I’m going to hit on that difference, another time, so keep checking back for that insight.
Alissa Klugh is a clinician who attempts to encourage the use of communication in working with others. Her perspectives, here, are from her own clinical practice and personal experience. As always, there are varying ideas behind the information shared on this page. As the reader, you are free to adopt the information in this blog, or to come up with your own varying perspectives about communication.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Alissa, you can begin by clicking, here.