Relationships are vital to our happiness in life. That being said, they can also wreak havoc on our emotions at times which leads to a less than happy state! Because they are so important and integral to our health and happiness, we can benefit from reviewing some basic requirements for good communication.
- Listen – Why is this one so hard? It seems like something’s wrong if there’s too much silence. And some of us think that we have to fill that space when it’s often more beneficial to take in the thoughts of another without having to respond right away. To reflect back someone else’s thoughts before sharing one’s own affirms the other person while also helping us to fully understand the other person’s point of view. In many cases, others will take our words in more meaningfully after being given the gift of hearing them with a desire to understand.
- Think before speaking – How many times have we heard that phrase? I like to use the 5-second rule for this one, (a way to check for germs, like when we drop that cracker!) I try to wait 5 seconds before making a comment to see if I feel as strongly about saying it after a few seconds have passed. Often, I may decide it wasn’t necessary, someone else has said it so I don’t have to, or I might want to rephrase it. If I still feel moved to say the thought, I have more confidence that it is a worthy addition to the conversation.
- Start with “I feel”– This is especially helpful when conveying negative information that needs to be said. Let’s face it, when we live with other people or have close relationships, conflicts will come up and it’s important to be assertive in order to be fully ourselves. And yes it is possible to be who we are while also respecting and embracing who the other person is as well. Starting with “I feel” is much less threatening than “You (this or that)” I’ll never forget when I first used this with my sister. We had a misunderstanding and when we talked on the phone to resolve it, I told her how I felt when she had done something I was hurt about rather than criticizing what she had done. She said that she didn’t know what to say because I had never spoken that way and she just couldn’t be mad at me!
- Notice – the sensations that come up for you. If a conversation starts to become heated, there are signs to tell us before it’s too late. We might begin to feel warm, tense or anxious. Pay attention to your body, your muscles, your heart rate. These are little red flags that we might lose control. When these sensations start to emerge, it’s a good time to pause, step back and even leave momentarily to calm down and get in touch with what is happening inside. Stepping away can be as simple as going to the restroom, taking a short walk, or getting some water. During that time the mind and body have a chance to breathe and relax so that you can think more clearly. Otherwise, you’re headed to fight, flight or freeze mode which could lead to communication break-down.
- Sandwich criticism – Think of an Oreo cookie. The chocolate crust is going to be positive statements. The creamy middle is the information you want to communicate for the improvement of your relationship. Start with a positive, something you appreciate about that person. End with another positive, appreciative statement. It will help the criticism go down much easier and hopefully more successfully. It has been said that a child needs 5 positives for every negative. I don’t know how true that is but it sounds like a good idea. I think it helps us too, if we’re upset with someone, to think of what we love about them, or something we like about them. It can soften our hearts and create a more caring atmosphere when discussing something difficult or uncomfortable.
So, there are 5 relationship reminders to tuck in the drawer of your mind to pull out occasionally, especially before an important conversation. If we take the first letter of each reminder, they kind of fit with the word “Listens.” LTSNS are the consonants in the word and they are the first letter of each reminder. It would be nice if the ‘s’ and ‘t’ were switched around but I think it could still work as an acronym!
Written by Francine Costanza, LCPC