We talk a lot about communication these days. It's probably the most common thread among those seeking therapy. Communication skills. Communication is probably the best remedy for interpersonal conflict. That doesn't mean it's always easy. Here are some quick tips for those of you worrying about family drama related to poor communication.
1. Communication is a Two Way Street
We most often apply the word "communication" to being able to express ourselves to those around us. That's only half the equation. Basic communication requires a sender and a receiver. True communication requires both the sender and receiver to "swap places". This only means that as much as we speak our mind, we must be willing to listen in order to foster a real exchange of information and ideas. Speaking your mind and expressing yourself are only the beginning. Listen as much as your speak and you're already ahead.
2. Assume Nothing
The most damaging misunderstandings come from the sender speaking their feelings and the receiver misunderstanding the information. Stopping this common mistake is simpler than you might think. Instead of taking the words your hear at face value and allowing yourself to be offended, stop and think for a moment. Then restate that information you heard in your own words back to the original speaker. Example: "So, I'm hearing that you feel...when I...". You might be surprised how often you misunderstand or read further into the information than what was originally intended.
3. Nobody HAS to Agree
Another common pitfall in communication is the idea that two people must agree on anything in a conversation. Not even romantic partners or family members need to be in agreement on everything. You may not agree with the information you receive from the sender. That doesn't invalidate their perspective and it doesn't invalidate your perspective either. Honest communication is not necessarily persuasive. It should not be about swaying someone to your "cause". They don't have to agree with you. And if they hold an opposite opinion, it doesn't mean you're wrong either. If you stop trying to argue and simply try to understand an alternative perspective (no matter how bizarre or offensive), it helps keep the peace. Imagine how much negativity could be eliminated if we all practiced this tactic.
As you interact with those around you, think about what communication actually means. And if you're anticipating a tense discussion with someone in particular, imagine yourself covered in Teflon. Don't give them the power to ruin your day. Their thoughts, feelings, and opinions, are theirs. You're entitled to your own.