Communication is often what we think of first when we think about creating or repairing a relationship. A lack of communication may lead to misunderstandings, confusion, and an unhealthy level of conflict. Engaging in healthy communication practices requires intentionality and can help to avoid these relationship pitfalls.
Healthy Communication Practices:
- Prioritize Conversation: when our attention is so often turned to social media, texting, and emails it is easy to let in-person communication slide. However, face-to-face conversation best allows us to interpret emotion, meaning, and nonverbal cues, which helps to prevent unnecessary conflict that can sometimes arise when we are limited to text on a screen. Prioritize conversation in your relationship by setting limits on screen time when you are together and making it a point to take more opportunities for face-to-face conversation.
- Timing: if you would like to discuss something important in your relationship, be sure to bring it up at an appropriate time when both people are available and in an appropriate space to have a conversation. Avoid starting a serious conversation when the other person may already be stressed or in the middle of something. If you find yourself worked up over what you want to discuss, take a moment, possibly even a day or two, to assess your feelings and let yourself cool down before discussing. When possible, always try to discuss things in-person rather than through text or email.
- Use “I” and “We” statements: how we frame our conversation matters. Someone may feel they are being attacked and may be less receptive if “you” statements are used rather than “I” and “we” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You are always on your phone,” you could try, “I feel like we need to be more present when we’re together.” One tactic is to try filling in this sentence: “I feel ______ when ______ because_______ so I’m hoping we can _______.” For example, “I feel ignored when you’re on your phone because it makes me feel less important than what you are looking at so I’m hoping we can put our phones away when we’re together.”
- Listening: it is just as important to effectively listen, as it is to express your thoughts, in a relationship. Making eye contact, nodding, and responding to the person speaking with short statements like, “uh huh” and “I see,” will help to show that you are listening. Your body language also conveys that you are listening by facing the person, not crossing your arms, and being free from distractions such as cell phones.
- Be Direct: it can be difficult to find the words to discuss issues and challenges in our relationships. However, it is important to be direct in order to get to the heart of the issue at hand. It is also important to focus on one issue at a time rather than bringing up multiple issues at once, which can often lead to conflict.
Now that we have laid the groundwork for communication, what is the best way to actually communicate? We all have different styles and techniques in how we approach conversation. The following will give you a look at some typical patterns and can help you be more intentional in how you communicate.
Four Styles of Interpersonal Communication
|Aggressive: this type of behavior involves verbally attacking someone else, being controlling, provoking, and maybe even physically intimidating or violent.
Example: “What is wrong with you? All you ever think about is yourself!”
|Passive-Aggressive: this person feels angry as a result of an issue but rather than express their feelings directly, they retaliate in an indirect manner. This type of behavior can cause confusion. The person on the receiving end feels “stung” but can’t be exactly sure how or why. The person behaving passive-aggressively can act like they have done nothing at all and is likely to imply that the other person is just “too sensitive.”
Example: A person is angry with their partner because they forgot to call them yesterday. Instead of communicating how they feel, the angry party offers to pick up their partner for their weekly date at 7pm but shows up at 8pm acting like nothing happened.
|Passive: this person withdraws in an attempt to avoid confrontation. They are likely to appear anxious or “shut down.” Passive people let others think for them, make decisions for them, and tell them what to do.
Example: A person is being treated poorly by their partner. The person feels resentful but doesn’t express it. They think that it is useless: either they don’t deserve any better or their partner is not going to listen to their concerns anyway. The person is likely to feel down, perhaps even depressed, but is unlikely to deal with the situation.
|Assertive: this behavior involves knowing what you feel and what you want. It also involves expressing your feelings and needs directly and honestly without violating the rights of others. At all times you are accepting responsibility for your feelings and actions.
Example: “I was hurt when you arrived an hour late for our date. I know that your time is as valuable to you, as my time is to me. I would appreciate it if, in the future, you would call me if you are running late or know you are going to be late.”
The assertive interpersonal communication style is the most conducive for building healthy relationships. Assertiveness allows us to share our thoughts and feelings with confidence and without judging or dictating. Seek to use an assertive communication style in your relationships to foster healthy communication.
Need more help with learning to communicate better or with building healthier communication in your relationships?
The Counseling Center is a great resource to speak with an unbiased professional about your relationships. Many students connect with the Counseling Center for help in resolving relationship challenges with romantic partners, roommates, and friends.
The Counseling Center is a confidential resource open Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, with extended hours until 6pm on Wednesday. The easiest way to secure an initial consultation is by making a same- or next-day appointment via the Wellness Portal. Students can also call or come by the Counseling Center to arrange for an appointment.