I’ve noticed when working with others, especially couples, that quite often when a relationship goes wrong it’s usually the communication where the problems begin. In fact, if you look closely you may find communication, or lack of it may be the underlying theme running throughout most of the problems in your different relationships.
Differences that turn into disagreements, that turn into arguments quite often can be traced back to a difficulty in communicating. We may fear saying something because we think we may offend the other person and the relationship will end up worse. Or we may not be able to articulate our position without becoming emotional and as we do that we can forget to listen to the other person.
Communication isn’t always about just saying something though. We need to be careful about how we word things, the language we use, tone of voice, body language and so on. Sometimes we even need to be mindful of what the other person might actually be hearing. We do tend to filter certain things. For example, as one person says, ‘there’s no milk left’, the other person hears, ‘you’re not getting any tea’. Remember there is always more than one viewpoint. It's okay to ask for clarification, either ‘I’m not sure what you’re telling or asking me’, or, ‘how did you just hear that, what is it you think I said?’
People are different and have different levels of openness, some find it easier than others. Be patient and allow others to develop more open ways of communicating rather than demanding answers. It can help to try to avoid yes or no questions as this can close a conversation down. Rather encourage the other to give an opinion or explanation and give them your full attention, let them know you’ve heard and understood them. Also watch for their body language, for example, if they’re making eye contact, or have folded their arms.
Lastly a good way to avoid conflict is to try to begin a statement by owning it. Say it from your own point of view by starting with ‘I’. For example, it’s easy to say, ‘You really annoy me when you do that so stop it’. This can leave the other feeling accused and they may stop listening to what’s being said as they’ve become defensive and are trying to think what to come back with. Instead own what it is you’re thinking or feeling. ‘I feel really uncomfortable when you do that.’ Is much more positive. It isn’t accusing anyone of anything but rather addressing a behaviour.
In counselling you can learn to communicate more effectively, openly and honestly in all your relationships.
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About Darren Magee
I have many years experience working in private practice in the BT9 area of Belfast. I have a collaborative approach to working with clients, drawing on different counselling disciplines to help maximise the support provided.