Can you guess the number one presenting problem couples have when they come in to see me? Yes you’d be right if you’ve said it is communication. Complaints begin with s/He doesn’t communicate, or s/he never listens are catch cries repeated in my office.
Accusations fly and a load of words move between the spouses like arrows. The discouraging thing is it’s usually totally negative. Making it virtually impossible to stay connected and positive.
When we feel attacked and criticized we usually get defensive, worn down and ultimately one or both withdraw, shutting down in sheer frustration.
Sound familiar? Perhaps you can see how this applies to your arguments and attempts to talk on the hot topics – parenting, finance, the in-laws the list goes on.
Now it’s not that they can’t talk, the truth is they can’t communicate effectively. When I listen it becomes clear key skills are missing. Communication is often misunderstood, especially in partnerships. That’s why couple coaching works.
Learning the techniques to communicate clearly will allow you to find freedom, joy, love and genuine connection. Disconnection is the second major complaint couples have.
When you communicate clearly you create:
- Clarity and perspective
- Deeper connection
- Minimal conflict
- Faster results
- Better outcomes for all
Who doesn’t what these life-enhancing benefits?
Where Couples go Wrong.
If you have ever found yourself in the equivalent of a communication traffic jam, then you will recognise the roadblocks. Once you realise and release these barriers, next time when you see the signs you can take a different route entirely. You are in the drivers seat!
- Missing the message
- Poor tone
- Lack of politeness
As I promised here are 8 Potently Powerful Communication Skills
1 Create Connection.
Before we even start to have a discussion we need to ensure we are ‘with’ the person. This means getting in synch with them. In therapy speak we call this joining. What we want to do is build rapport.
Communication experts believe the majority of the message being both sent and received is nonverbal. Words only account for a lousy 7% of communication is the oft-stated figure.
We have amazing things inside called mirror neurons, which, allow us to understand and feel what other people are going through.
That’s why when you watch those kids on TV bouncing off the see saw hard your body winces and you go ouch! And possibly laugh.
Mirror neurons give us this capacity for social synchrony, promoting bonding and empathy in our relationships. Scientists have determined analytical thought destroys and creates misunderstanding. Stop any analysis paralysis.
How do I create connection?
Simple you copy and match your mate’s body language as your chatting to them. It’s human nature we like others like us. Pay attention to your partner’s gestures, placement, and tone of voice.
If they tilt their head to one side you match this. If they are speaking slowly, so do you. When then breathe you breathe with them. They have crossed legs you might cross yours at the ankle. The key is to do it subtly.
Next time you are with someone and having fun, you will most likely find yourself doing this automatically. It is an unconscious process. So get back into synch with your partner today.
2 Forget Mind Reading. Become a Body Reader.
It’s not as creepy as it sounds. Too many partners are busy reading their significant others mind and totally missing vital information.
You won’t be surprised to hear body speak is a vital component. Don’t worry you don’t need to be an Allan Pease body language expert to decode your partners message.
What you do need is an idea of what their body is signalling to you. Is there a sign of relaxation and ease or discomfort?
Signs of comfort and ease are leaning towards, physically coming closer, twinkling eyes, turning to face you, a head tilt, a pat of the hand, a smile and touch.
Signs of discomfort appear as head or neck touching or rubbing, head turning away, arms crossing, body angle or feet turning away and poor eye contact or looking away.
What you want to do is note where the person’s general comfort levels are. High comfort gives you a green light to keep going and low comfort you may need to back off a bit.
For example I am in connection with my partner and I notice he goes rigid and starts smoothing his hair with his hand frequently, his face looks taut. I know that he is in discomfort and most likely not able to hear things clearly. So I soften and go back to creating connection.
3 Own It.
They best way to own your communication I know is with the tried and true “I Statement.”
An I statement is where you describe your experience and feelings on something. It is the gold standard in assertive communication.
If it goes something like: Hi honey did you take the garbage out (you know they didn’t as you can see the overflow out of the corner of your eye). They say Sorry I forgot. I’ll do it, why do you have to keep asking? Don’t you trust me? You respond you take forever to do it.”
You get the picture and I am sure you know where this one goes off into the ditch in your own life experience.
When you use a you statement which is sadly often followed with a never, always don’t, it will come across as an accusation. No one likes to be accused. Naturally they go into defense mode. These are part of what John Gottman refers to as the four Horseman of the Apocalypse and good predictors of divorce in communication patterns.
Read this statement and see what is wrong with it. “ I feel/think that you….” Warning this is not an I address of usefulness. The You overtake the I.
An “I” offers an objective opinion; it opens space and gets your message across. Try taking a true I statement personally. Use this vital skill today in all your relationships and interactions. Watch the change.
4 Be Open.
This should really be at the top of my list, please make it your priority.
When you are vulnerable and open to others real magic happens. People will feel safe and will be open towards you. True vulnerability builds trust and strengthens bonds while deepening connection. See why it’s a priority? This will give you increased joy and security in all your relationships. Vulnerability is the cornerstone of intimacy.
Vulnerability advocate and researcher Brené Brown has improved our knowledge tremendously. I recommend her books and you will find these in the Book Resource section.
If you want your partner to be open and share their vulnerabilities you are going to have to take the lead and be the first to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability and gentle honesty can provide you with a powerful relationship, now who doesn’t want that? Let’s have a go at increasing your joy and stimulating satisfaction.
Yes the next thing you need to do is to shut up. Finding silence helps you listen intently to understand.
Quietness is a true gift for your spouse and you. This gift will create a deeper soulful relationship.
The stillness of attending silence offers you the opportunity to be a better listener. It is an active process of being soft and taking things in without interpretation or reaction.
Creating a silent space for others encourages them to talk more. (Yes I can hear some people cheering at this. Talkers, get ready to listen more.)
Interruption and its accomplice inner rebuttal (thinking of what you are going to say, how wrong they are in your mind while the other is speaking) are the murderers of silence. These shut down and diminish relationships.
True silence gently allows your significant other an invitation to help you both learn more about each other and the situation. Offering you real growth potential. Sit in attended silence more.
While respect is not so much a skill as an attitude. It says to your loved one you matter to me. I will show up in this discussion. If you wish to be an influential parent, a thoughtful partner or caring friend this outlook is the key to successful interactions. It all starts with you.
Respect is shown is a light tone of voice, it says I am here ready to hear you. I care about you, your issues matter to me and I want to help you.
Opponents to Respect are:
- Problem Solving
- Thinking of your answer
- Asking too many questions
- Talking over another person
- Intimidation – yelling, aggression or worse still throwing property or making threats
- Bringing out all the issues at once
- Dredging up the past resentments– dirty fighting
So as Aretha Franklin say show a little Respect! Forget any interjection, and relax. This alone will go a long way to resolving your issues and makes for a safe landing zone.
7 Reflect for Clarity.
In therapy we us a term called reflection, or mirroring. Basically this is where you paraphrase the other person’s comments back to them. It’s an integral part of a listening exercise using called Imago dialogue many couple therapists employ.
You let your partner speak and feedback what you have heard. This allows both you and them to really feel heard and attended too.
The real power here is will provide clear communication. No longer will you misinterpret your mate. You will check in with them. They will even help you if you have missed something.
When you partner has said their piece you paraphrase back to them. “So what I hearing you saying is… is a good starter or From what you said I heard … did I get that?
Practice, practice and then some more practice. Here you do not add anything in this process is for creating connection.
8 Add in Empathy to the Mix.
After you have reflected for clarity you can add the most potent communication enhancer empathy to your skills.
This is where you have a guess at what the other person is feeling on an emotional front. Connecting with a partner on a emotional basis will advance your relationship to a new level of fulfillment. Empathy is the healing influence. It is also the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.
So work at developing this and the above core skills to advance your relationships and connections to a higher level today. Challenge yourself to take these words off the blog and into your life, have fun!
Please let us know in the comments below what have been your bugbears and what has made a difference. Perhaps you have a suggestion you would like us to help you further with in your communication quandaries or would like to share your successes – we would love to read about them.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Philipa