By John Logan
Too often, when people are told that they need to communicate more, they perceive that as an open invitation to talk to a point that the listener really just wants them to shut up. However, there is a huge difference between simply talking and actually communicating. Especially with your spouse.
Communicating is as much a science as it is an art. The word communicate comes from the Latin “communis” or common. Think of a common room in a house or business that everyone shares or an exterior commons where everyone shares the space. In truth, while two people or two groups may have something shared in common, many problems and disputes can be traced to a lack of understanding. So for us, communication is as much about understanding as it is about having something in common.
Good communication can be defined as the ability to express your opinions, attitudes, feelings and outlook on a subject in a way that ensures that the person or people you are talking to understand exactly what you are trying to say, combined with the capacity to listen, and the skill of understanding another person’s point of view, often without ever having experienced it.
I am an avid people watcher. And I cannot count the number of times I have sat in a room, whether in business meetings or at conferences, or at the airport, and simply watched and listened to what is going on around me. It is incredibly fascinating when whole groups of people lack the skill to actually listen to their colleagues, partners or friends and therefore cannot even begin understand or comprehend any opinion other than their own.
In many cases, what could have been covered in just a minute, or learned in a quarter hour often takes hours or days to convey completely only because people are so self-involved, they refuse to sit back, listen and understand.
Over the years I’ve seen an amazing number of people who have been provided with specific guidance or information that, if acted upon, could totally and positively alter a relationship, a career or the success of a business. However, because of their lack of capacity to listen to and think through the idea from another person’s perspective, unique, sometimes lucrative and often life-changing opportunities pass them by.
The only difference between personal relationships and interpersonal skills in the work environment is that there are, most often, just two of people. The most successful relationships, be it business or personal, are those in which both parties have strong listening skills, and straightforward and uncomplicated language skills. Often, what could be a strong, satisfying and happy marriage is shattered by one or both spouses’ sheer inability to communicate.
Many relationship problems often begin with poor communication. Couples often feel that their partner should inherently know what they are thinking without any verbalization so they do not communicate how they feel and then wonder why they feel neglected, unloved or undervalued.
In some cases people decide not to tell their partner something just because they don’t know how to say it and then the problem erodes the relationship until there is no relationship left, when just the seemingly simple ability to share a problem could make what seemed to be an insurmountable issue a tiny little blip on a large horizon. However, sometimes communication is not simple.
Examining the communication process is like looking at a snapshot in time; a single instance of a dynamic and unending process. The facts are that the only time you do not communicate something to someone is when you’re completely alone, dead or unconscious. Although few people recognize it, communication takes place – for good or for bad – when we’re trying to and even when we’re not.
The communication process can be broken down into three parts: the sender, the message and the receiver.
The sender has something he or she wants to share. Unfortunately the sender’s information is in his/her head and while many of us would love to be able to share thoughts and ideas via ESP, the reality is that we’ve somehow got to get the information we want to share out of our mind and into the other person’s mind in some form or fashion.
The message is a signal that the sender broadcasts in some manner. The message may not be just words, so the signal is how we encode the message in our own head and transmit it to the receiver. It could is a combination of thoughts, feelings, words, and meanings, and the message could be verbalized or unspoken. Most communication problems stem from the idea that communication is easy or should be done in only one specific manner.
The receiver is simply that – the other person or persons that the sender is trying to communicate with. The receiver has the responsibility of not just getting the message, but understanding the message and sometimes providing feedback.
All communications we receive, no matter what the signal, are filtered through our own unique personality, our upbringing, our experience, our culture, and our current state of being. When you are tired or stressed or in circumstances that can best be described as unpleasant, communication becomes all that much harder.
Often it is how you say something that can ruin a relationship and not what you have to say. The absolute wrong way is just to blurt out something or act out in a manner that you know will anger, aggravate or distress your partner. The last thing you want is for them to be defensive, storm off or burst into tears. You want the person you are trying to communicate with to be open and perceptive and in order to be able to achieve this, your timing and approach has to be right.
Given people’s individuality you need to learn what is the right approach for you and your partner. Make sure that you never start a discussion if you don’t have time to finish it and don’t insist on a debate when one of you is about to leave for work, dealing with the kids or just relaxing in front of the TV watching their favorite show or a special sporting event. If the timing seems to be never right, ask the question “When would it be a good time for us to just sit down and talk?”
Whatever you do, don’t let yourself appear to be agitated either in what you say or how you say it. Body language can just as easily put your partner on the defensive as what it is you say to them.
The degree to which someone understands what we are trying to communicate depends on any number of factors. How much alike are we? Do we share any background experiences? Are our language skills, attitudes, and beliefs similar or dissimilar? What assumptions have we made about each other based on stereotypes? And in most cases, someone who tells you “I understand perfectly” is either trying to mollify the situation or deceiving themselves.
One of the biggest problems in good communication relates to listening. How many times have you gotten lost because you were only half-listening to the directions? Listening is NOT the same as hearing.
While it’s obvious that you must hear in order to listen, it isn’t always true that if you hear you are actually listening. Hearing is a function carried out by your brain wherein the sounds received by our ears are assigned some meaning – often whether we like it or not – but just because our brain understands the words doesn’t mean that our minds will understand the message that is received.
Part of the problem is that our brains are much faster in interpreting information than our mouths are in transmitting it. The average person speaks anywhere from 30 to 100 words per minute but our minds can process information much faster than that. So if the first few words do not generate our focused attention, many times (even unconsciously) our thoughts will quickly drift off to something else and the “listening” process ends.
This listening/hearing disparity not only results in a lack of interest but can also cause us to prejudge what we are hearing. If a person is uninteresting or dull or abrasive, these perceptions will cause us to judge the signal and color the message with our own attitudinal “filters” that may in fact completely change the intended message.
So what are some specific behaviors that you can put into practice that will improve your communication skills? Remember that communication is a cycle – an ongoing give and take of the information being shared. For example, if we purposefully or accidentally give no feedback, the sender may have no idea, or even a distorted idea, of how they are communicating and how (or if) the message was received. Distorted feedback could include things like agreeing with the sender when we really have no clue of what they are trying to say or simply saying “okay” without understanding the purpose of their message.
First, start with listening better. The key to improved listening is actively managing the hearing process. Listen – don’t assume. As you listen to someone, examine what they’re actually saying, question your understanding of what is being said and involve yourself in the conversation. A simple response like “Why do you ask?” or “What makes you think that?” may uncover a wealth of information to help you better understand the message.
Couples often fail to listen to what their partner has to say. They interrupt and often give the impression, either verbally or non-verbally, that no matter what is said they won’t change their mind. One trick to ensure that you have really listened and you do understand is to repeat what you have heard. This will demonstrate that you, as the receiver, actually listened to what was said and by repeating it back you have the opportunity to comprehend and understand, as well as provide you partner with an opportunity to clarify the message if needed.
Next, try to improve your self-concept. Since all communication is filtered through our self-image, it makes sense that the better that self-image is, the better our chance of sharing understanding. Improving self-concept involves challenging assumptions we have about ourselves. Sometimes being open-minded starts with questioning our own views of the world around us.
Finally, learn to decipher non-verbal communication. Remember that non-verbal communication is processed by each of us almost unconsciously. By becoming consciously aware of the sender’s tone of voice, posture, gestures, and facial expressions, you will raise your level of understanding of the message by several notches.
Each of the areas above can be practiced and, with practice, communication can be improved in every situation.
Every individual is different. What will work with one person won’t necessarily work with another and with some people all you can do is sow the seed and then let them walk away and work it out for themselves.
The ability to communicate effectively has implications for every part of life. Better communication can improve your marriage, other family relationships, enhance business relationships, and improve overall quality of life. Think again of how many disputes, arguments and disagreements were all rooted in poor communication.
Most importantly, if you begin to feel that marital issues are beginning to weigh heavily on your mind, take a break and do something you enjoy, preferably with your partner. If you can refocus your attention of the better things in life, day to day issues always seem that much smaller and communication flows much easier. Spending a little time together and enjoying each other’s company could enable you and your partner to recapture some of the feelings that have been lost through constant arguing and help you regain a positive perspective on your relationship.
Remember that you control your own destiny and if you want a strong, healthy and happy marriage, you have the power at your fingertips.
Find more great ways to strengthen your marriage from John logan at http://www.canisavemymarriage.com.