When you are speaking to your partner, does what you are saying, “go in one ear and out the other?”
One of the biggest misconceptions about good communication in relationships is that it involves lots of talking. Frequently, quite the opposite is true: everybody is talking and yet no meaningful communication is taking place because nobody is really listening. There is really no point in starting any conversation if you are not open to hearing your partner’s point of view. The best communication involves two people completely committed to hearing each other. Fortunately, listening is a skill that you can develop and improve for the rest of your life.
To Improve Communication, Listen to Your Partner
Listening is an art form and an ever-developing skill. Some ways that you can become a better listener include:
- Try to absorb the words of your partner by slowing down and letting him finish his thoughts
- Resist the urge to formulate a response in your head while she is still talking
- Let your partner’s words sit with you. Internalize them.
- If you disagree with a point, resist instantly lashing out to verbally push back.
- Stay engaged by looking at your partner and refrain from “acting out” your disapproval through physical gestures like eye rolls, shoulder shrugs, or tapping your fingers on the table
These are simple pieces of advice, but in the heat of an argument, they can be hard to stick to. And in general, most of us have a deficit in feeling heard and listened to by other people. It can make us needy and eager to talk instead of just listening. That’s why it is important to practice your listening skills whenever you get a chance. When you chat with the grocery store clerk, focus on what he is saying instead of what you want to say, ditto at parties or with friends. That way, when those really tough conversations happen, you will be ready.
To Improve Communication, Write a Letter
Just don’t send your first draft! If you had to express your feelings about your partner and the relationship in just 2 or 3 paragraphs, could you do it? Writing a thoughtful letter can be another way to speak less and actually improve communication. It requires that you slow down and consider your words before putting them on paper. Modern forms of communication such as texting can bait us into thoughtlessly ranting about what bothers us while being in line at Starbucks and press send without ever considering the impact of our words.
Writing a letter requires more thought. If you write something in the heat of the moment that is angry or hurtful, you can go back and erase or rewrite the letter. It also forces you to clarify and simplify how you really feel. Too often, couples ramble to each other with no connection to their true feelings. This can be hard to listen to or even understand. Next time you wish to express your feelings to your partner, consider a thoughtful and kindhearted handwritten letter.
To Improve Communication, Work On Your Own Emotional Attunement
One could argue that without emotional attunement, relationships do not stand a chance and couples can’t work through their differences, no matter how much they talk about it. The problem is that most advice articles on communication skills don’t mention that emotional attunement is not so easily taught. It isn’t a trick or technique but instead an ability “to feel” what is going on with other people and is closely tied to our ability to empathize. Ironically, the best strategy to become more empathetic is to get better at confronting and tolerating your own feelings, especially the painful ones. If you simply do not feel yourself, you cannot feel other people, then reading my blog post “3 Steps to Unlock the Power of Bad feelings” will help you take the first steps in this direction.