How To Talk So Others Will Listen
Poor communication is the most common complaint in intimate relationships. Having the same fight again and again drives most people to eventually walk away or seek help.
Maybe you’ve tried reasoning things out, but nothing changes. Once you or your partner get defensive, it’s tough to walk away. The little things explode into arguments about nothing, and before you know it, the relationship is at risk.
You might be saying to yourself - why should I have to change?
I get it, it’s hard to be the lone ranger in the relationship, but if you plan on staying you can choose to make it better yourself, or stay stuck.
This blog shows how to communicate so others want to listen! Knowing how and when to talk deepens your communication and creates a connection that lasts. Nothing replaces good, healthy communication.
Why The Little Things Matter
When you can’t communicate effectively, arguments become a vehicle to prove to the other person that you matter. Each person fights to feel valued. As a result, no one gets heard. Over time, these misunderstandings drive a wedge between you and the one you love.
To be fair, most people don’t know what it takes to communicate in a healthy way. We don’t learn this stuff growing up. In fact, most of us have to unlearn the habits we witnessed growing up. Seeing adults blame each other, use silence as a weapon, or fight to be right aren’t great examples of problem solving.
Healthy communication isn’t just how you say things. It’s a delicate balance of expressing yourself clearly while actively listening to what’s being said. Having a successful conversation takes a variety of different skills.
Healthy communication includes:
Finding a time that works for both people
Listening and caring about the other person’s feelings
Expressing yourself assertively without making others wrong
Regulating your emotions (and knowing when to leave)
Sticking to one subject without getting derailed
Creating a pre-planned script (to keep on track)
Unfortunately, there isn’t a class in school on how to have Happy, Healthy Relationships. Most of what we learn about relationships comes from our family of origin. And that isn’t always the best template to copy.
Progress Doesn’t Have to Take Years
These communication skills are simple and easy to practice. Focus on making small but steady changes. Learning from what didn’t work provides a healthy motivation to get it right the next time. That’s why mistakes are such valuable lessons. They show us where we can do better.
Keep Your Expectations Realistic
One way you can get into trouble is expecting to get your way or to resolve something immediately. Assuming that you can resolve things in one conversation isn’t always realistic. Talking things out often requires more time. Healthy communication takes plenty of patience to both listen and get your point across.
Getting defensive makes listening more difficult. Emotional reactions happen fast and increase with intensity when they’re ignored. That’s when behaviors like “hitting below the belt” can show up. You start getting loud, swearing, and calling each other names. Sometimes, it even gets physical. These forms of anger are hard to repair later.
Click here to check out my free email course on Catching Your Anger Before It Hurts.
So what can you do?
Instead of expecting immediate resolution, change the goal. Seek to understand each other. You can’t resolve anything unless you take the time to understand the other person’s perspective.
To communicate effectively you have be reasonably calm. That way, the other person can stay in the conversation because they feel safe. Some days, you’ll be too tired or stressed. Recognizing your stress level can help to avoid getting into discussions at the wrong time.
Practice Good Timing
Always start with getting permission. Start with, “Is now a good time to talk?” Pushing someone to talk when they don’t want to will backfire fast. No one likes to be forced into talking and it almost always creates defensiveness and anger.
Picking a mutually agreed upon time increases the likelihood of a successful outcome. So, do you know the signs of when your partner is ready to talk? Can you tell if they are relaxed and open or too stressed?
Take a few minutes to gauge if it’s a good time to talk. Pay attention to any clues that indicate they aren’t ready. For instance, are they using a harsh tone, having a bad day, or grumbling under their breathe? You know them well enough to recognize when they’re open. Use that (and how you feel) to assess whether or not to initiate a chat.
Define Your Goal
Successful conversations require some planning. Think about your intentions. What do you want to achieve? Do you need to be honest about what’s bothering you, negotiate a need or set a boundary? When you know your intention, it’s easier to stay focused.
Some goals for healthy communication include:
Expressing an opinion or concern
Asking about someone else’s intention
Making a deeper connection
Negotiating a want or need
Not every conversation needs planning but with a more serious topic, it makes a difference. You’ll be more focused and less likely to get off track. It also shows that you’ve put some thought into is which conveys that you care.
Create a Script
Next, create a script to clarify your goal. For instance, do you need a favor and feel embarrassed to ask? Do you want to clarify a misunderstanding? Are you hurt and need to talk things out? Once you know the purpose of the conversation, then create your script.
The best way to do this is to write out what you need to say in 2-3 sentences. That will encourage you get to the point. Start with a clear “I” message that expresses how you feel or explains the need or request. The “I” message focuses on communicating from a place of “I” instead of “you”.
Example: “Can we talk about what happened last night? (If yes, continue) I’m upset that you criticized my parenting in front of everyone. I was super embarrassed. Can you help me understand why you said that?”
This shows how to express upset clearly without blaming or attacking the other person. But trying to do this in the moment without any planning is tough.
How to Stay Calm
According to The Gottman Institute, when a person gets “flooded” with stress hormones their ability to listen gets significantly impaired. Because you’re in survival mode, listening takes more concentration than you have in that moment.
At that point, listening becomes an annoyance.
You becomes hyper-focused on your position and being right. That’s because the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. You get to choose; you can be right or you can do what it takes to communicate effectively.
The ability to communicate requires a balance of talking and listening. Here’s my quick rule: If you can’t listen, then you shouldn’t be talking.
Being too hungry, angry, lonely or tired increases the likelihood of your emotions controlling the show. You might react more intensely because you’re not prepared, or you’re just too wiped out to listen.
Next, identify your self-talk. Everyone has an internal dialogue about how they view themselves and the world around them. This has a big impact on how you do relationships. For instance, when your partner criticizes you, do you immediately think…
“Here we go again. Nothing I do is ever enough.”
That’s an example of how negative self-talk impacts your mood. Assuming a negative outcome decreases the motivation you have to work things out. You might think what’s the use? For more help click here What You Should Know About Self-talk.
Instead, concentrate on making small but significant steps to improve your communication.
Why Listening is Critical
What makes someone an excellent communicator is not the ability to talk but the willingness to listen. Most people are anxious to get their point across. But when you’re more interested in what you’re going to say, you send the message that you don’t care about what’s being said.
Here are some tips for listening:
Look interested in what’s being said
Ask related questions to show that you care
Avoid telling like-minded stories that shift the focus back on you
Don’t interrupt their story
Avoid multi-tasking which can send the wrong message
Without listening you wouldn’t be able to connect. You’ll just be venting and though that relieves stress, it doesn’t create intimacy. Showing genuine interest is a sign of appreciation that forms a deep and meaningful connection. Often, listening repairs old hurts because the person finally feels heard, and that goes a long way. Feeling heard is an intense, lasting example of love.
The elements of healthy communication aren’t complex. Pick one area you know could make a difference quickly. For instance, if you force conversations, wait for an opening. If you struggle with negative thinking, counteract each negative statement with a positive one.
Transformation happens as you build one relationship skill at a time. Even when your partner does nothing to change, you can shift the communication yourself and start healing.
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