We all know what unhealthy communication feels like. Shouting, angry threats, extended silent treatment, gaslighting- these are just some of the main ways people hurt each other.
Generally speaking, people want to connect with others. Yet our egos and defense mechanisms and past traumas can make this connection difficult.
Although it may seem surprising, healthy communication requires conscious effort and intention. Most of the time, these strategies aren't inherently obvious. Let's get into what you should know.
Empathy is the foundation for healthy communication. Empathy allows us to imagine the experiences other people feel. It's a natural way to connect with someone else, even if you haven't gone through the same situation.
To become more empathic, consider these tips:
Get curious: We often reject what we don't understand. But if we take the time to learn about how other people think and feel, we can relate to their circumstances more effectively.
Consider why someone might feel a particular way: Feelings aren't random. They are natural reactions to the stimuli around us. Even if you wouldn't have the same response to that stimuli, it doesn't make their reaction any less valid.
Give back to others: Service work can naturally help you reflect on your own privileges. By becoming more aware of how other people live, you can become more compassionate and altruistic.
So much of good communication relies on how you listen, rather than how you talk. Unfortunately, many people don't listen very well. Instead, while the other person speaks, they think about what they want to say next.
Active listening, on the other hand, refers to conscious, intentional listening. With this approach, you're tuning in to the other person's verbal and nonverbal communication. You're giving them your full attention. If you don't understand something, you ask clarifying questions.
Active listening is an essential ingredient in healthy relationships. It's the glue that helps people feel validated and connected- typically, when we feel like someone else gets us, we feel safe being vulnerable with them.
Active listening comes naturally to some people. If that's not the case for you, consider trying these strategies to cultivate this skill:
Ban distractions: Put away your cell phone. Turn off the TV. Stop eating. Instead, focus on being right there with the other person. Try to get as close to being as 100% present as you can.
Don't interrupt: Even when you feel the urge to say something, hold your tongue. Frequent interrupting can derail someone's thought process. It can also make them feel like you don't actually care about what they have to say.
Mind your judgments: It's normal to have reactions to someone else's story. You might feel angry, upset, or even disgusted by some content. But it's essential to be aware of how your judgments could impact someone else. Try to focus on taking a neutral approach.
Owning Accountability For Your Feelings & Actions
Conflict is an inevitable part of human relationships, and it doesn't mean the dynamics are unhealthy. That said, how you argue is often more important than what you argue about.
Many times, when people argue, they become reactive and defensive. In this, they blame the other person for doing something wrong. They become extremely critical and use words as weapons rather than as opportunities for connection.
The next time you feel frustrated with someone, take a moment to reflect inwards. What are you feeling right now? What is your part in the dynamic? Where can you make improvements? The more you're willing to focus on what you can do differently, the easier it is to remain calm and level-headed in your communication.
Validation conveys that you care about someone else's thoughts, feelings, and experiences. When we feel validated by someone, we feel like our opinions matter. We also tend to feel like we're "normal" for feeling a certain way.
Validation doesn't mean you necessarily agree or like a situation. It just means that you are attempting to understand where someone might be coming from. Some examples of validating statements include:
I can see why you felt angry about that.
It makes sense that you didn't want to be around him.
I can hear your frustration.
I completely understand why you can't make it on that day.
It sounds like you're going through a rough time.
Mastering Healthy Communication
Healthy communication is the heart of all satisfying relationships. It's what makes us want to connect with the people around us.
At the same time, we often struggle with communication because we don't want others to hurt us. We feel afraid of being vulnerable. Or, we get caught up in the heat of the moment.
At The Resurface group, we help people strengthen their communication habits every day. It's a core part of what we do, and it's an essential component of our therapy treatment.
We are here for you and your loved ones. Contact us today to get started.