Communicating well is an essential component of every good relationship.
Who doesn’t have hot-button topics in their relationships, whether that be with a husband, friend, co-worker or child? Those “avoid at all cost” conversations that typically end in arguments or hurt feelings when they’re over.
The topic might be about how unhappy you are in your marriage, or how one of you is spending too much money, or a child you may suspect is doing drugs or asking for a raise at work. You get the picture. I think we all have conversations that we dread having because, really, we simply don’t know how to communicate about them well.
In fact, oftentimes those conversations are avoided until the problem becomes so extreme that it is no longer possible to ignore. By then, your conversation is too often explosive and little is resolved. And at the end of it, you like and respect each other less.
Pretty much everyone I know has had experience with chatting about tough topics. Let’s take an example from my sister, “Lilly” and her ex-husband “Ed”. She shared this story with me and gave me permission to share. Lilly had come home from a business trip and was going over their finances when she noticed that Ed had spent money outside of their budget. She immediately questioned him on it.
"Ed, you went to Costco and spent $300 on what?” she asked. She was tired from a long flight the day prior and overwhelmed by the dirty home and piles of laundry that awaited her.
“I bought a coat,” he said too loudly. “I make enough of money that I can buy a coat if I want one.”
Lilly yelled back, “You can buy what you need but you can’t surprise me by it.”
And there it started. “You’re a control freak,” Ed yelled.
“You’re lazy,” she yelled back. “Look at this house.”
“I took care of the kids while you were gone. You can’t appreciate anything!” said Ed.
And pretty soon, Lilly was telling Ed she wanted a divorce.
Honestly, nothing could save their marriage and, because Ed had substance abuse issues, nothing should have. But Lilly learned a very powerful lesson in that relationship: communicating well is “make or break.” So true!
And one thing that my clients, friends and family members who have struggled in their relationships have all learned, poor communication too often means a relationships death. We must be able to talk about tough topics in a sane (and safe) manner. When Lilly’s divorce was final, she started working on healing and learning how she could be a better partner. She was also hell-bent on ensuring that she would not find herself in another relationship with a similar man. She needed to make better choices, and she needed to do better, too. Communicating well was an essential part of that.
Not long ago, I stumbled on a life-changing book, Choosing Clarity, by Kim Giles. The techniques below have helped me transform my own relationships and to counsel others on doing the same. And since becoming a Life Coach, I’ve counseled couples, parents and children, and individuals about how to communicate better.
As I and my clients have incorporated some of these strategies, I’ve become far better at approaching my partner, children or other important people in my life and having those “hot button” conversations. I believe if you use them and tweak them so they are appropriate for you, your relationships will improve, too. After all, communicating well is an essential component of every good relationship. If you can’t communicate, odds are that your relationship is in deep trouble. So try these tips below. I think you’ll find them incredibly helpful.
Bill’s top 5 communication tips:
1. Choose to see people as your equal:
You might think this is nuts. I mean, not everyone is the same. But try not think you are “better” than everyone else. Smarter, better looking, more successful, funnier… (I know—this can be hard sometimes!) Seriously, none of us have any idea what has made another person who they are. And, especially those that we love or are in our lives (like a co-worker or neighbor), we can treat them respectfully and before we can do this consistently, we have to believe that they are not super beneath us. In doing so, it will bode well for how you treat others in your life.
2. Concentrate and free yourself from distractions:
When you are ready to talk to someone about an important topic, set aside all distractions. Put all your electronic devices away, turn off the TV, and seek privacy. If this is a conversation with your partner or a friend, try to wait until your children are in bed. Or perhaps go for a walk or out to dinner. Personally, I like to have conversations in a car, if appropriate. If you are talking to a boss or co-worker, find a private office or sit outside. Making sure you have privacy is important. When you talk, make eye contact. And, make sure your partner is ready to have a conversation, too. How? Simply ask.
3. Ask questions. Listen:
When you are chatting, ask probing questions. Seek to understand. Do not interrupt. Keep that eye contact. Nod occasionally. Wait until they have paused before jumping in.
4. Ask permission to share:
Ask permission to share your thoughts, feelings and beliefs. I mean, seriously ask. Like, “Can I share my opinion with you?” If he/she says “no”, ask when it is a better time. Schedule it just like you would any other meeting.
5. Don’t make accusations:
The biggest word to avoid is “you.” It sounds accusatory. Instead, use a whole lot more “I.” As in “I believe that if our spending continues at this rate, we may need to file for bankruptcy. We may lose our home.” Also, you want to focus on changing future behaviors instead of dredging up the past.
Before you have any conversation, try to be as calm as possible. I am not a big fan of heavy drinking, but perhaps a glass of wine is in order. Or a session of yoga. A hot bath, a long walk… Anything that will help center you. If you start off a conversation without going into it angry, it will help.
Best of luck! I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how effective these new tips will be in your life.
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