We learn how to speak from our parents. By the age of four, most of us have pretty effective language skills.
Unfortunately, many of us never learn how to communicate effectively.
As with learning the language, we copy how our parents and other significant adults communicate, and we acquire their weaknesses and limitations along with their skills.
But communication skills can be learned and improved at any age, and have a big effect on all your relationships.
Here are six simple methods that you can try today:
1. Know what you want from the conversation
Communication skills begin with self-awareness.
What is your goal?
Do you want your partner to understand your situation, do you want to share your troubles, do you want her to join you in a new project, or do you simply want to connect?
2. Keep it personal
Use sentences starting with “I-statements” as in “I feel,” “I like/don’t like,” and “I am curious about” instead of making assumptions about the other person, using phrases such as “you are,” “you do,” “you make me.”
When you make assumptions, you suggest that you know already what the other person is thinking and feeling. You come across as condescending and disrespectful.
Plus, you lose a chance to find out what is really going on.
“I-statements” are assertive without being aggressive, and with an “I-statement” you take responsibility for your actions, feelings, and reactions. You open the door for your partner to do the same.
3. Be honest
Honesty is the basis for all good communication.
Lies and secrecy make it impossible to connect. If you lie, your partner is talking to someone you invented in order to deceive them, not to you.
However, some people mistake honesty for a license to be rude and insulting.
That’s not honesty, that’s inflicting psychological and emotional injury.
Being honest means being true to yourself and clear about your thoughts and feelings.
It also means being open to the other person’s honesty.
Listening is just as important as speaking – in fact, it can be the key to improving your communication skills.
The famous “two ears, one mouth” rule suggests that your listening to talking ratio should be 2 to 1 if you want to understand what the other person is trying to say.
Another important listening tool is to try to imagine what the other person is feeling, or what you would feel, if you were in their situation.
The best communication happens when both partners feel empathy with each other.
Be aware of your non-verbal signals when you are listening. Don’t look away, don’t fidget, and never, ever look at your phone.
5. View conflict as a form of communication
Many of us are afraid of conflict, so we try avoid it.
When the conversation becomes heated, we stop sticking to our position, we abandon our boundaries and, even worse, we don’t want to hear what our partner has to say.
Others react in the opposite way: they attack, sometimes unfairly. They invade boundaries and start to shout.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Even if you disagree vehemently, you can still use “I-statements” instead of harmful assumptions, you can still stay honest and curious about the other person’s point of view, and you can still listen.
Remember that, most of the time, you are both desperately trying to connect, you just don’t know how.
Two simple and effective tools for improving communication in conflicts are:
- Stick with the present moment. Two words never to say are “always” and “never.”
- Stick to the topic at hand. Don’t generalize and don’t bring in “other examples.” And certainly don’t bring in “third parties,” other people who are not here but who allegedly share your opinion.
6. And finally — continue the conversation
Relationships are a series of ongoing conversations.
This is not your only chance.
You don’t have to settle everything right now.
Communicate to your partner that you are here and that you will be here in the future. You can continue the conversation at any time.
Stay curious and try to use your empathy.
The reason why you are using all these communication skills is because you want to improve your relationship. It is you and your partner who matter, even when all the words are spent.