Have you and your partner ever had an argument because one of you misunderstood what the other person said? It's likely that you have. In fact, even when couples are not arguing, they’re misunderstanding each other. It happens more often than we think.
It’s no secret that communication can make or break any relationship, especially a romantic relationship. But do you know what the secret to effective communication is?
Effective communication is a two-way process. But surprisingly, the key to effective communication isn’t speaking, it’s listening. Or more precisely active listening.
Most of us listen passively and subjectively, taking in every word, filtering it through our own experiences, and sometimes reading unintended meaning into a word or how it’s said. Miscommunications often begin this way.
Active listening is a structured approach to effective communication that requires the listener to:
- Focus attention on the speaker by maintaining good eye contact and receptive body language (lean forward, arms and legs uncrossed)
- Listen objectively, without implying meaning based on personal experience
- Rephrase the speaker’s words for clarity and to show understanding, often with an “I” statement.
“I” statements are one way listeners can mirror back what a speaker has said, thereby ensuring mutual understanding. For example, an active listener might say, “I understand you feel unhappy when…” or “I’m hearing you say that….” By showing a genuine desire to understand, “I” statements support effective communication and strengthen the rapport between the listener and the speaker.
“I” statements are also effective communication tools when you have something to say, or when your significant other opens a conversation that makes you feel sad, bad or mad.
Rather than getting defensive, take a deep breath, count to 10 and use active listening skills to keep the lines of communication open.
- Invite your partner to tell you more about what the problem is and how they feel about it.
- Take the opportunity to restate the problem and clarify possible misunderstandings.
- Soften your “start up” and avoid confrontational tones and accusations.
- Avoid “you” statements that begin “you must,” “you’d better,” or “you should.”
- Respond assertively but respectfully and use “I” statements to describe how you feel and why. Make it about you, because in fact it is about you—your feelings.
By practicing active listening and assertive responding, you’ll be better equipped to deal with all your relationships, whether they are romantic or platonic, personal or professional.