Do you find yourself frustrated when your children aren’t listening to you? Do you get upset when your spouse didn’t hear what you just said? Do you get into arguments with loved ones only to find out that they misunderstood what you were actually saying? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you may benefit from reading this article on how to communicate effectively.
There are different types of communication. Communication is key to healthy relationship building. Think about it: Life is about relationships and relationships are about communicating. Without healthy communicating, relationships (and your emotional wellness) can suffer.
There are 3 types of verbal communication: passive, aggressive and assertive.
Passive communication is a submissive way of communicating. It is unhealthy because it does not respect one’s own needs. This can lead to feelings of resentment, feeling taken advantage of, anger and mental exhaustion.
Aggressive communication is also unhealthy as it does not respect the other person’s needs. It is a ‘bullying’ type of communicating, a form of dominance.
Assertive communication is healthy because it is a form of communicating that respects each person’s needs, which leads to trust and comfort.
Using statements that start with “I” is a respectful way of communicating and allows you to own your feelings and thoughts. It avoids blaming and attacking someone else.
Statements like “I feel hurt when you come home 2 hours late and don’t let me know ahead of time” is more respectful and effective than an aggressive statement like “You are so inconsiderate for always being late coming home.” This is shaming and attacking, which leads to the ‘flight/fight/freeze’ function. This leads to the frontal lobe of the brain ‘shutting down’, so logic and judgment and consequences are not functioning at this time, which makes for a very ineffective conversation.
Aggressive ways of communicating can put the other person on the defensive, which also is ineffective in that the person may ‘shut down’ or attack back. When you don’t say anything that about something that is hurtful to you (being passive), then your needs are not being met which can lead to emotional stress.
There are also nonverbal ways of communication: assumptions, expectations, misunderstandings, and agreements.
A lot of heated discussions and hurt feelings can be avoided in any relationship if we set up agreements ahead of time instead of assuming or expecting someone to do something or act a certain way. For example, if you don’t want your guest smoking in the same room as your child, don’t make an assumption that the smoker knows your concerns. Otherwise, it can create an uncomfortable situation when the smoker starts smoking in front of your child. You can prevent this stress by making an agreement ahead of time for the guest to step outside to smoke.
It’s also important to be clear and honest about your intentions, and avoid being evasive with your needs, or think that the other person can ‘read your mind’. I had a client who had a hard day at work and just wanted to come home and not have to cook. She wanted her husband to take her out to dinner that night. When he got home from work, she said “I am so tired. I had such a bad day at work.” He then replied, “Oh no, why don’t you go to bed early tonight?” She got angry with his reply, wanting him to say instead “Why don’t we go out for dinner tonight to give you a break?” He didn’t know why she became upset with him. If she had just said, “I had a really hard day at work today and don’t feel like cooking. I would love it if we could just go out to eat tonight” it would have been a clearer and honest message, and stress could have been avoided.
Agreements are very effective and easy in any type of relationship and they avoid needless stress and misunderstandings. Practicing healthy ways of communicating is a valuable part of life in any situation at home, work, school, or in the community. It teaches us to be respectful of our needs and the needs of others, which creates a healthier state of mind for those who practice this way of communicating.