We all want to have healthy and positive interactions with other people. Yet sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we simply can’t seem to achieve this goal. Much of our interpersonal conflict stems from how we communicate. Since communication is a multifaceted process involving two or more people, it’s important to take a minute to understand how the flow of communicated information actually occurs.
Think of it like this: First there’s what someone is trying to say, followed by what is actually said. Then there is what the other person heard, and how that information was interpreted. Clearly, there are a number of places where miscommunication can occur. But worry not, because here are seven steps you can implement to navigate the occasionally turbulent waters of our emotionally driven relationships.
1. Reflect On Both Sides Of A Conversation
When speaking with someone, make sure to reflect on where the conversation is heading and what you are contributing to it. This does not mean that your goals and perspectives should take center stage. According to Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor emerita of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, getting preoccupied with saying what you want to say is unfortunately all too common. Instead, you should strive to cultivate the ability to listen, as you would with any skill.
2. Communicate Your Intentions
Mheyah Bailey, a relationship and success coach, firmly believes that communicating your intentions clearly is crucial. People frequently get into arguments over a symptom of an underlying issue, rather than the issue itself. The challenge lies in addressing the cause of the problem, which may require you to dig deep within yourself first before you confront the other party.
3. Do Not Attack Others When You Disagree
It’s important to take responsibility for your actions in any confrontation before expecting someone else to do the same. Dr. John A. Johnson, a professor emeritus of psychology at the Pennsylvania State University, suggests using “I” statements rather than “you” statements when discussing an issue with someone. When you speak about how you see the conflict, rather than presenting your side of the situation as fact, it makes the other person feel less defensive and more eager to resolve the problem.
4. Pay Attention To Body Language
When we communicate, we tend to do it with our entire bodies. Closed arms, for example, can mean a person is feeling guarded or defensive. A lack of eye contact suggests someone is either ashamed, disinterested, or finds a particular subject difficult to talk about. Pay attention to the body language of the person you are speaking with — and be mindful of your own.
5. We Often Hear What We Want To Hear
A substantial amount of research shows that when communicating with others, it is very important to understand that emotions come from our interpretation of what someone else has said or done. In other words, we react to our perception of an event rather than the event itself. Therefore, you must always be willing to listen to the other party and make a conscious effort to understand what they are saying.
6. Leave Your Ego Out Of It
Michael Rooni, a lawyer and communication specialist, suggests leaving your ego at the door when interacting with others. For people to get along, individuals have to value compromise and empathy over being “right.” Emotions don’t always make sense, but they are vital for us as human beings and give meaning to our interaction with others, thereby helping us to build our relationships.
7. “Winning” Is Not The Goal
Sometimes you simply won’t win an argument. Dr. John M. Grohol, an expert in mental health and founder of Psych Central, insists that we need to know when to back off, since not doing so can veer a conversation off track and make tensions escalate. Let it go and move on. Do not dwell on it, bring it up repeatedly in future disagreements, or use it as a tool to make someone feel bad for past incidents. Be in the moment and look toward the future. The past is history for a reason.
With these steps in mind, look forward to having better conversations — and, hopefully, relationships!
This article is updated from its initial publication in Brain World Magazine’s print edition.
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