Five Steps for Effective Communication in a Relationship

Effective communication is a key factor in a successful relationship. Here are five steps that you can take to improve your communications with people in your life:

The first step in effective communication is to spend time alone to identify what you are feeling and thinking about the subject. Being present with yourself, allowing your thoughts and feelings to emerge, enables you to gain a fuller perspective on what you want to communicate. Asking yourself if there is something that you need from the other person that perhaps you have been unaware of, can give you insight into some of the feelings you may be having.

The second step is to express these feelings and needs in direct, non-blaming ways to the other person. It is important to find your own voice, to say what your experience is and to express what you need in the relationship - even if you think you may not be able to get it. When you "own" what you are feeling, and say in simple statements such as "I feel angry and I feel that you are not listening to what I am saying", or "I need you to take in my feelings, and thoughts", you send a clear emotional message that takes responsibility for your own experience.

The third step is to introduce feedback into the communication by asking the other person to give you their reflection of your statement. You can inquire as to whether you were able to get your message across to them, by suggesting that they now reflect back to you how they heard your message. If they reflect back accurately you have achieved the first stage in mutual understanding. The next stage is for you to understand what they want to express. If they did not understand you, you can adjust how you are saying your message, and asking them to try again to understand and reflect back what you are saying.

The fourth step is effective listening. The first part of effective listening is to listen with an open, empathic mind so that the other person's message can reach you, and you can receive it without changing it with your own interpretation. It is very hard to simply hear what the other person is expressing without bringing our own "filter" to the task. The challenge is to recognize that every person has their own way of experiencing things; that each person's mental process evokes their own associations and meanings. We need to be open to the other persons ways of experiencing.

Secondly we can learn to be curious about how the other person's mind organizes what they experience followed by acceptance of their differences. Remembering differences, especially when you feel you are being criticized for something, is extremely hard. But even in that case, it is useful to try to understand how the other person is experiencing the situation. It is critical to remember that if another person's experience is different from ours, it does not make their experience right or wrong. It is just different. If we do not realize this, we tend to get defensive and caught in thinking about how right we are, or how wrong the other person is.

Finally, when we cannot listen openly and are not able to put away our need to see things our way, it is important to express this, perhaps saying, "I am not able to grasp what you are trying to express right now. My mind is caught up in other thoughts." Taking responsibility for not being able to be present and expressing that to the other person is a critical part of listening.

The fifth step is reflecting back what you have heard. After listening with an open and empathic mind, you will be able to simply say what you are hearing. The more accurately you can reflect back what the other person seems to be feeling, thinking or needing from you, the more the other person will feel recognized and understood. When both members of the relationship are able to provide an accurate reflection for the other person, mutual understanding is achieved. Mutual understanding is the corner-stone of effective communication.

© 2011 TruceWorks