Communication problems are very common whether it is between family members, friends, work colleagues, or an intimate relationship. How many times have you said “That’s not what I said” or had someone accusingly say “You are not listening”? It can be very frustrating to feel like you are being misunderstood or not listened to and the aggravation escalates into anger, defenses rise, and before you know it you are arguing and definitely not effectively communicating.
Are you Listening?
In order to truly listen, you have to be focused on what the other person is saying, not thinking about how much you don’t agree or how to defend yourself. You may feel so anxious that you cannot wait for them to finish before you interrupt to defend yourself. If you interrupt or speak at the same time they are, then you are not listening. Don’t worry, you will have the chance to respond afterwards. “Active” listening is when you are fully engaged in what the other person is saying and “passive” listening is when you “hear” what they are saying and can repeat what they said but you are distracted thinking or doing something else at the same time. Active listening requires effort and energy as well as a sincere interest. Do you have good listening skills?
Validate Instead of Judging or Criticizing
During the listening process there will be opportunities to confirm that you are in fact listening, paying attention, following the conversation, and understanding what is being said. It is important to validate the other person’s feelings and experience whether you agree or not or think they should feel the way they do or not. It may seem ridiculous, or their perception may seem too extreme, or you may think they’re being too sensitive, but it is still the way they feel. Emotions do not need to be rational. Instead, they must be validated, not judged or criticized.
Try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself what it would be like to have that same experience and how it would feel. Try to imagine it. Some things are much easier than others and don’t require much imagination. For example, you don’t have to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge to know that it would hurt and so you don’t need to try it. Other things require that you get in touch with your empathic side. The ability to be empathic is essential and the best way to gain empathy is to think of similar experiences of pain, loss, fear, etc in order to imagine what it must be like for them. If you are able to do this, you will find a new, kinder, less aggressive way of connecting with that person and communication will be much more effective.
Do Not Blame
It is very important to practice speaking in the first person (“I”) instead of the typical blaming “you” point of view. “You make me so angry” or “you never ask me how my day was” or “you never do anything nice for me”. How do you feel just reading those accusing phrases? Most likely, they make you angry and defensive. Now consider the same complaints stated differently in the first person from the “I” point of view. “I feel so angry when” or “It would feel so good if you would ask me how my day was” or “I’m feeling lonely, a little ignored, and I’m not sure what’s going on, I need more attention and quality time from you right now”. Doesn’t that sound less aggressive? When you speak from the first person, you are accepting responsibility for your part; your feelings, your desires, and your needs. The other person will be much more willing to accommodate your needs and desires if you aren’t completely blaming them for your unhappiness.
Take an honest look at your part and accept responsibility for it. Were you inconsiderate? Did you only think of yourself? Were you impulsive? Should you have considered the consequences or how it would affect someone else? Once you acknowledge their point of view and your part in the scenario, you will then be able to consider what you could do differently the next time.
Review together what you could do differently next time. What would help the situation? Is the behavior or attitude old or new? What are your patterns? What are you willing to change and what do you refuse to change? How does it make you feel to consider these changes? Is it threatening or scary? Will the other way be unfamiliar? It is important to consider all of this so that you don’t agree to something that you are not actually willing to carry out. Do not make promises you cannot keep. Most likely you will need to compromise somewhere in the middle. It will feel good if you are both making an effort. And best of all, communicating in a more personal way, sharing your feelings, desires and needs, closes the gap and creates intimacy.