Suggestions for rapidly improving your communication skills at home and at work:
Whether you are engaged in communicating with your life partner or with persons at work, the most important principles of good communication begin before any words are ever spoken. The first principle is to think before you speak, and the second is to approach the listener as an ally rather than an adversary.
The problem to be solved or the project to be planned should be a joint effort in which you both have an investment in a positive outcome! Remind yourselves of these principles as you begin to work on your communication.
- Speak for and about yourself, ask your partner to speak for and about him or herself, then ask how can we make a solution work for both of us. Speak up, don’t clam up!
- Paraphrase or feed back what you think you have heard before reacting.
- Make an “appointment” to solve a problem at a time that works for both of you.
- Be clear about the purpose of your conversation. Do you want help? Do you want to blow off steam? Solve a problem?
- Stick to a single point rather than a “laundry list” of issues.
- Avoid: You should, you ought, you always, you never!
- Avoid name calling and sarcasm at all times.
- Say what you mean rather than hinting or expecting your partner to guess well.
- Express appreciations and irritations daily-preferably more appreciations.
- Use open-ended questions to give the other person room to answer in his or her own words.
- Focus on finding solutions rather than mind-reading and attributing motives.
- Negotiate changes to try for short periods of time to see how they work for both of you.
- Don’t ask “why” when the reason really won’t make a difference. Eg: Why don’t you tell me you love me more often? Just ask for what you want.
- Accept differences of opinion.
- Use feeling words to express negative feelings rather than threats or accusations.
- Be compassionate and forgiving of yourself and others.
- Your communication might not sound “natural” for a while but remember what sounds natural is merely what you have practiced most often, it doesn’t mean it is better.
Enduring Relationships Require
- Much expressed affection
- Mutual trust and respect
- Shared goals and values (interests, shared love for children or no desire for children)
- The ability to give and take
- Sensitivity to each other’s needs
- An egalitarian relationship
- Commitment to permanence
- A sense of purpose beyond self
- I will be a friend, not an enemy
- I will speak for, and about myself
- I will listen to my partner
- I will solve problems in good faith
- I will let my partner know how I feel
- I will tell my partner what I want from him or her
- I will ask myself how I can make a solution work for both of us
- I will keep commitments I make to my partner
- I will renegotiate commitments I cannot keep
- I will be pleased or irritated by what my partner does, or does not do, not at my judgment of his or her motives.
As you work to improve the quality of your communication, consider not only what you say, but how you say it. I recommend that the speaker should go to the listener and make sure to get the attention of the listener before speaking. It is also helpful to identify for yourself and your listener why you are speaking. Are you giving information? Asking a question? Giving a compliment or criticism? Are you blowing off steam or asking for help with something? Are you expressing anger or frustration, or sincerely trying to solve a problem? If you and your partner don’t have difficulty with your communication, great! If you find you frequently do, then ask yourself if trying some of the above suggestions might help.
Evaluating Your Relationship
It might be trite but true, that a relationship is like a plant, it needs on-going care so it does not wilt or die. But how do you evaluate your relationship in a constructive way? Perhaps these suggestions will be helpful.
- Are you both paying attention to the state of your relationship, taking time with just the two of you to play together or work on a project together? This is essential to the health of a relationship.
- Are your honest with each other? If not,what needs to be fixed?
- Do you anticipate positive, open responses from your partner?
- Do you laugh together? If not, why not?
- Do your share criticism courteously, constructively and honestly?
- Are you careful to keep conflict out of bed?
- When you are working together or talking do you give each other your full attention?
- Do you express appreciation frequently and resentments courteously?
- Do you share personal and career concerns with each other?
- Do you share some of the same friends?
- Do you plan some experiences and set goals together?
- Do you have compatible life goals?
- Does physical contact sometimes lead to more intimate touching and sometimes is positive by itself?
- Are you as nice to your partner as you are to your work colleagues and your best friend?
None of these is an absolute requirement for a good relationship, but might be a starting place for self-evaluation to see what you might do to make your relationship all it could be.
Continuing the theme of evaluating a relationship, or a potential relationship, ask yourself these additional questions:
How important is it to me to have a schedule and a plan? (This can be a very significant point of conflict for couples if not compatible and resolved?
How important is it for each of us to be independent, emotionally, financially, and in my friendships and activities?
What is my need for trust? (Don’t take this one for granted) What are my expectations for verbal honesty and openness as well as emotional and physical fidelity?
What is my need for security vs. risk, in activities and life choices, such as finances?
What are my needs for the verbal expression of affection? What are my needs for the physical expression of affection, that does not necessarily lead to sex? What are my needs for sexual activity/lovemaking?
What are my needs for clear direct communication? (Don’t take this one for granted, either!)
What are my expectations and needs for joint decision-making?
If I were unable to make decisions for myself or my children would I trust this person to make good decisions, or to carry out my wishes?
Do I respect this person who is my partner, or whom I am considering as a partner? Am I respected by this person?