The key to every good relationship is effective communication. Whether you want to improve your relationship with your partner, child, friend, or co-worker, you will probably need to work on some communication skills. For many of us, it is hard to ask for what we want or set boundaries around the things we don’t want. Effective communication is all about overcoming those difficulties so that we can voice what we need.
In my next seven blog posts I will offer tips to help you improve your communication and the quality of your relationships. All of these tips come from my work as a therapist and many of them have been helpful to me in my own relationships. I hope that as you practice them you find them helpful as well!
1. Use “I” Statements
Straight out of couples counseling 101, this tip is called a nonviolent communication skill. What you want to do here is speak in the following way: “I feel ____ when you____”. Rather than focusing on what the other person is doing that is driving you crazy, you are leading with how you feel about it.
For example, imagine that your partner often comes home later than they say they will and when they do it causes a huge fight. You might try saying to them “I feel lonely and disappointed when you come home later than you said you would.” Speaking this way allows you to first identify how you feel and then tell your partner about it.
The benefit of this skill is that you get to explore your feelings and give your partner an opportunity to take care of those feelings. An added benefit is that someone is much more likely to change the behavior you don’t like if you appeal to their natural sense of empathy. When we tell others about our feelings we play to that sense of empathy. If by contrast you attack your partner for for the unwanted behavior they are more likely to get defensive and continue the cycle.
Practice This Skill
- Take a moment to think about someone you are in conflict with.
- Try and recognize what has been the cause of that conflict. Can you get specific about what is bothering you? Is there a specific the other person says or does that adds to it?
- Close your eyes and reflect on how it feels when this behavior happens. You might check in with your belly, chest, and face. Allow yourself to identify what body sensations are associated with this conflict.
- Once you know how it feels in the body, see if you can give it an emotional label. If you need a little help here is a great list of emotion words.
- Try saying to yourself: “I feel ____ (filling in the blank with the emotion you just identified) when you _____ (filling in the blank with the behavior your recognized in step two)”.
- Spend some time rewording the statement or changing the language if necessary. If it doesn’t need changing you can just practice saying it out loud a few times.
- Find an appropriate time to have a conversation with the other person and use the “I” statement you practiced here.
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