Excellent communication is the most important part of any meaningful relationship. But for many of us getting there is extremely scary and challenging. If you didn’t grow up in an environment where this skill was modeled to you, you’re likely to struggle. And if you’re anything like me you may have even had poor communication skills modeled instead. You know the ones where being psychic is expected as proof of love, the slightest discomfort results in an explosion, or worse yet, minor misunderstandings lead to complete rejection and abandonment. Listen, I’m fully aware that when I spend a whole month talking about the importance of creating excellent communication in your relationships many of you are shaking in your boots. I get it… that was me! So, I thought I’d make it a little easier for those of you who struggle to communicate at all, let alone the tough stuff by sharing my 7 simple rules.
Rule #1 Know What You Want
There is one thing of which you can be sure… if you don’t know what you want to begin with you won’t be able to communicate it. Take the time to figure out what you want and need from your relationships. Not getting to the bottom of this and simply expecting the other person to make you happy won’t work. What will happen is you’ll feel dissatisfied, and they’ll feel frustrated.
Think about what you want from each of the relationships you’re in. Consider what you have to give and what your boundaries are. And get serious about how you can best communicate this in order to make progress.
Rule #2 Write it First
Listen to me… do NOT talk to other people instead of the person you need to. In general, this just leads to a lot of drama and hurt feelings (believe me, I’ve learned the hard way). And this little tidbit of information leads me right into rule #2. If you can’t bounce your ideas or thoughts off someone else to sort them out a bit before the big convo happens, what are you supposed to do?
WRITE it first! Taking the time to write down exactly how you’re feeling and what you need to say gives you the opportunity to make sense of what you need to talk about. In addition, it gives you an opportunity to vent without running the risk of gossip or outside judgement on your relationship.
When you’re done getting everything out on paper take a little time to reread what you’ve written. Put your thoughts in order. Get rid of the overly hurtful examples from the past, absolutes, and inferences (these aren’t likely to further your conversation). And think about what you’re hoping to get out of this conversation. Now… tuck your page away (no you aren’t going to be reading from it) or burn it if you need to and get ready to have the meaningful conversation you need to without all the venting, hurt feelings, or frustration.
Rule #3 Pick the Right Time
As a general rule of thumb, the right time is ahead of time. For example, if you want flowers on your anniversary, you should communicate that BEFORE your anniversary. If you know that you’ll need some extra support at the family Christmas party talk about it well in advance, not on your way there. But in addition to that, it’s very important that you are both ready and undistracted for the conversation to go well.
Please, for the love, do NOT set this up by saying anything like “we need to talk” or “I need to talk to you”. You’re likely to find yourself in a rather anxiety wracked conversation if you start that way. Instead try something a bit more specific and ask for what you need. “Hey, I’d like to chat a little about the family Christmas party when you have some uninterrupted time / have about a half hour”.
Setting aside a specific time to talk without distraction makes it more likely that you’ll get what you want out of the conversation and create deeper connection and emotional intimacy. Keep in mind that when either participant comes into the conversation distracted by say a cell phone, project, or sporting event, or is stressed from day a difficult day at work, family crisis, or recent conflict you aren’t likely to have the same positive outcome.
Be intentional about setting aside time to create excellent communication and connection in your relationships.
Rule #4 Use “I” statements
I understand that you may be feeling a way before you go into this conversation and that right now you may be thinking that I don’t understand because they….
Here’s the truth, I completely understand! The thing is if you want the other person to be able to hear you it’s important to create a conversation that doesn’t create defensiveness. And in my experience, it can be difficult to determine what can trigger this (since, as I said above, we’ve all had different communication and relationship styles modeled to us). That’s why it’s so important to use “I” statements. Create a dialog that is focused on you by talking about you.
This means rather that saying “you make me feel rejected when you…” You’d go with something like “I feel rejected when … happens”. If you say them out loud, you’ll immediately notice how different each statement feels.
Not only does this strategy work when sharing something you’re struggling with (that could easily turn into an argument) but it also works when communicating boundaries and general preferences. In addition, it leads to you feeling validated and seen.
Rule #5 Listen Well
Communication goes both ways. In any conversation make it a priority to truly hear the other person. This means listening to them without making snap judgements, reacting, or thinking of what you’ll say next. Communication is all about connection not who wins, is right, or makes the best points.
Listen and give your undivided attention. Be sure to give the other person time to think through what you’ve said before rushing to response. And remember, asking for clarification doesn’t mean you or they weren’t paying close enough attention. Creating excellent communication requires not only speaking clearly but also listening intently.
Rule #6 Be Clear
Don’t get bogged down in inferences or try to tip toe around the topic. Be as clear as you can when communicating and try to avoid examples that may feel like comparison or put the other on the defense. While you don’t have to explain yourself or give excuses or explanations when sharing your boundaries or something you need it can help to share why it’s important to you. Most people are very motivated to help those they care about when they can and if they understand.
Rule #7 Express Gratitude
And finally, my go to, big time, rule! Express gratitude! Communicating gratitude with specifics is very bonding and motivating. Just as most people are very motivated to help those they care about, they are also motivated to feel appreciated. Expressing gratitude not only during the conversation but also after as your communicated needs and desires are being met makes the conversation you had stick. So, be looking for reasons to thank the people you’re in relationships with. This will also keep the more challenging conversations at bay. When you’re looking for reasons to feel grateful, you’ll find them. And when someone is feeling appreciated, they’ll continue on the same path.
Just Do It
So, think of this as a bonus rule… just do it! I know some communication may be challenging especially if you’ve had difficult experiences in the past. But it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no way to create the connection or emotional intimacy you desire in your relationships if you don’t communicate. You’ll always feel dissatisfied and unhappy. And guess what, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. The people who care about you aren’t psychic. Don’t expect them to just know what you want and need. And listen, they aren’t awful people either, following these simple rules you can create excellent communication skills that get you what you need from your relationships.