By Silvia Carli-Reese MS, RD, CSCS
A huge part of life is navigating relationships, and I don’t mean only the romantic kind (although those are a big deal, of course!). We forge and maintain these connections with many people: our parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, and spouses or partners, to name just a few. Think about the people who play the biggest roles in your day-to-day life. Would you say you have a healthy relationship with each one of them? It’s likely that there’s at least one person in your circle with whom you could improve your relationship. Even if you get along pretty well with most of your family and friends, there’s always room for progress. Today, let’s explore the qualities of a healthy relationship and how open communication makes things better for everyone involved.
What Matters in a Healthy Relationship?
Take a minute to think about someone with whom you get along really well, whether it’s a loved one, a friend from school, or a coworker. What are the things you like about this person? Maybe they have a great sense of humor and can make you laugh even when you’re at your gloomiest. It could be that they have the best advice when you’re facing a big dilemma. Or perhaps they’re interested in the same things you are and are always up for pursuing them together.
No two people are exactly alike, and so none of the relationships we have with others will be exactly the same. But there is one thing all healthy relationships have in common: good communication. Communication is the act of sharing your needs, wants, and concerns with the other person. It means talking openly and honestly about your thoughts and feelings, even when they’re not peaceful and happy. It means being willing to listen when it’s the other person’s turn to talk.
Why is communication important in your daily dealings with the people in your life? The short answer is that none of us is a mind-reader! Learning to communicate effectively is how we get our needs met and build trust and understanding in our relationships. It allows us to live a more connected life, with healthier and happier friendships, marriages, and partnerships. Improving your communication with someone might be the single most effective way to develop a deeper and more meaningful relationship with that person. Next, let’s look into how you can start doing that right away.
Tips for Effective Communication
We negotiate each one of our relationships differently. Again, that’s because each one of us is a unique individual with our own needs and desires. On a more practical level, it’s because we relate to the various people in our lives on different levels. You most likely don’t interact with your work supervisor the way you do with your best friend from high school or your younger sibling. That said, there are certain behaviors that make your communication more effective in any relationship. Here are a few important communication skills to develop and hone:
Be a Good Listener
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that communicating is mostly about talking. Speaking your mind is an important part of communication, to be sure, but listening might be even more so. And I’m not just talking about being quiet while someone else is talking — I mean really paying attention to what they’re saying rather than mentally formulating your response. It’s not easy to train yourself to truly hear what someone else is saying, but you can learn to be more mindful of your listening skills. This will help you know what you really want to say when it’s your turn to speak.
Maintain a Sense of Calm
When you’re having a conversation about a difficult subject, it can be a challenge to stay cool. After all, if someone is accusing you of wronging them in some way, it’s natural to want to rush to defend yourself. As difficult as it may seem, it’s far better to remain calm and collected, even when you’re feeling defensive, insulted, or frustrated. Resist the urge to fly off the handle, and you’ll find that you resolve the issue far more quickly and effectively. If you do feel yourself getting too angry or emotional to have a rational discussion, it’s okay to excuse yourself and say you’d like to pick it up after you’ve had the chance to take a few deep breaths. You can revisit the topic when you’re feeling more level-headed.
Choose Your Time and Place Wisely
Do you remember that scene at the beginning of Legally Blonde where Reese Witherspoon’s character’s boyfriend dumps her while they’re out to dinner at a fancy restaurant? It’s our first clue that the guy is a total dope. He’s completely shocked by the fact that she’s mortified and bursts into tears, as she thought he was about to propose! When you’re broaching a difficult or very personal subject with someone, be sure to choose your setting wisely. Your employee won’t respond well to being called out for an error in front of colleagues, for example. Whenever possible, keep your conversations about sensitive issues private. It shows respect for the other person’s feelings and allows you both to speak more freely.
Think About How the Other Person Feels
Speaking of feelings, a key aspect of great communication is empathizing with the other person. That’s when you understand and share in their thoughts and feelings. It’s that sense of “Hey, I’ve been there before, and I know what you’re going through.” Being empathetic to someone’s struggles helps you know how to better respond to the situation at hand. When the other person senses your empathy, it can help them feel less alone in whatever they’re facing.
If you don’t feel that you’re naturally good at empathizing, that’s okay! Many of us work on developing empathy throughout our lives. Check out this review of Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence book, which could be a useful read for you.
Resolving a Misunderstanding
It’s not always easy to resolve a conflict with someone who means a great deal to you. It can make you feel anxious, defensive, and tempted to avoid any kind of confrontation. Resist the urge to hide from the issue, and open up the lines of communication with the other person right away. Although you may end up having an uncomfortable conversation, you’ll likely reach a peaceful resolution that allows you to be happy together in your relationship. And, after all, that’s really what life is all about.
Are you an effective communicator? Incorporate some of the tips above to improve any, or all, of your important relationships.
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