Relationships are an art form created by two individuals who have a similar or complimentary vision, passion, and ambition. Rarely has a relationship developed without its growth pains. Similar to the development of the human body; a relationship is affected by the nurturing it receives. If a relationship lacks in nutrition it will not have a healthy development. Unhealthy relationships are most commonly lacking in the most essential of ingredient: healthy communication.
What is communication? It is the ability to convey or share emotions, feelings, sentiments, and desires. Communication can be sent or received through verbal or nonverbal cues. Healthy communication is the ability to communicate without offering hateful or undesirable responses. While not all communication will be received with a welcoming spirit; healthy communication acknowledges that we have a right to “agree to disagree”.
LEARNING TO COMMUNICATE
Communication is not only what we send, but how we receive information sent by others. In some cases, we seek to be offended, shamed or judged. In other cases, we seek to place judgement, blame or criticize the lives of others. Either way, if we are seeking negativity, we will find it indeed.
Learning to communicate is in part knowing why we communicate the messages we communicate. What to communicate when there is a message to be sent, and when to communicate such messages. For many, communication errors occur when the messages are either sent or received at the wrong time. Another form of communication error occurs when the messages are misinterpreted by the sender or the receiver.
“Of all the skills we develop… communicating is one that we’ve been practicing since birth. And yet it often gets in our way, causes stress, and leaves us at a loss. We too frequently miscommunicate, obfuscate the point, cause an unintended reaction, or avoid a messy discussion altogether.” (Hedges, 2011, Online) Communication is an art form that is crafted throughout our lives, if-and-only-if, we have been taught by someone who has learned the art of communication.
There is no secret to communication, but the truth is, we have all received wrong instructions on how to communicate.
THE KEY INGREDIENTS TO HEALTHY COMMUNICATION
The key to healthy communication is having a willingness to lay aside our defensive tendencies and accept responsibility for our part of the relationship. Healthy communication entails exercising our active listening skills, reflective listening skills, and having personal insight. If we want to have a healthy relationship, we must establish and seek to maintain healthy communication.
If we are angry, we need to recognize that it is our responsibility to accept our current state-of-mind. For no one can really cause us to be angry, agitated or enraged, rather we choose a negative form of communication to express our emotional state. Anger can be a response to negative or hostile communication, or it can be our own negative or hostile communication directed towards another. “It’s important to remember that angry people are often people who can’t communicate effectively… Unfortunately, an angry response to criticism is likely to trigger even more anger and criticism from the other person rather than problem-solving communication.” (Mckay, Fanning, & Paleg, 2000, p. 153-154) The key to healthy communication is learning to communicate without becoming angered, agitated, or enraged.
Frequently, active listening is a skill lost in our communication. “People often fail to listen carefully (Actively Listen). They may assume they know what the other person is saying or will say (because they have heard it before, or they assume that one person is ‘just like’ another person from the same group).” (University of Colorado, 2013, Online) Active listening takes intention,
What does Active Listening entail? It entails good physical posture, gestures, and purposeful eye contact. As an active listener, you will align your body towards the intended recipient. You may lean towards the sender or receiver, maintain active eye contact, posture your body in an open form, and be relaxed while nonverbally communicating. Active Listening is also being capable of reflecting any verbal or nonverbal communication that is communicated.
What does Active Listening imply? “By consistently listening to a speaker (another person), you are conveying the idea that: ‘I’m interested in you as a person, and I think that what you feel is important. I respect your thoughts, and even if I don’t agree with them, I know that they are valid for you. I feel sure that you have a contribution to make. I’m not trying to change you or evaluate you. I just want to understand you. I think you’re worth listening to, and I want you to know that I’m the kind of a person you can talk to.’” (Rogers & Farson, 1987, Online)
Reflective listening reinforces that you have been actively listening. Reflective listening is intended for mirroring and clarifying communication that you have received. It is through reflective listening that the sender can feel heard, acknowledged and fully recognized for the value of the words they have offered. Furthermore, it is through reflective listening that the sender can be reassured that what they have communicated has been clearly comprehended by the receiver.
“There are three basic levels of reflective listening that may deepen or increase the intimacy and thereby change the affective tone of an interaction. In general, the depth should match the situation. Examples of the three levels include:
- Repeating or Rephrasing – Listener repeats or substitutes synonyms or phrases; stays close to what the speaker has said
- Paraphrasing – Listener makes a major restatement in which the speaker’s meaning is inferred
- Reflection of Feeling – Listener emphasizes emotional aspects of communication through feeling statements – deepest form of listening.” (Michigan Tech University, 2013, Online)
PERSONAL INSIGHT ~ Mindfulness
When we choose to be active and reflective listeners, we are showing personal interest and acknowledgement of the other person’s overall welfare. Looking inwardly may prove our greatest challenge in healthy communication. As a participant within a relationship, we are choosing to connect beyond a superficial level. When we are in a relationship, it is vitally important that we are capable of acknowledging our own contribution to that relationship. If we have done wrong, we should acknowledge our mistakes seeking to rectify any problems that may have developed. If we have been wronged, we should not seek to solve our problems with negativity rather seek to offer forgiveness and acceptance of those who have wronged us.
We should continuously seek to have personal insight. Personal insight is the willingness to confront our behaviors, consequences, and choices in life. It is the ability to rectify any wrongs and stand strong when we have been done wrong. It is the ability to acknowledge our personal limitations and strengths, without being boastful, arrogant or haughty. Personal insight goes beyond the acceptance of our role in a relationship, it is a reflection of our inward acknowledgement of self. It is capable of accepting what we need in inward and outward relationships.
Having personal insight makes us fully aware of our involvement in a relationship. Carl Gustav Jung said that “the world exists not merely in itself, but also as it appears to me.” I am because I acknowledge myself to be. When we have personal insight we are mindful. Mindfulness is the ability to be active in the moment, offering our full attention to others and self. When you are mindful you recognizing that the moment exists and all about that moment is worth your attention.
In many relationships that have reached an impasse, a player within that relationship feels unheard, overshadowed, and unworthy of another’s attention. If we are mindful, we are rejecting the need to live in the past. When we are mindful we acknowledge our personal role within a relationship and accept our personal responsibility.
The problem in our world today is that we live in a disposable world. If a relationship fails to succeed we simply dispose of the relationship; seeking pathways to new relationships. One of the greatest causations of failure to succeed is the fast paced world with which we reside. “We are living and working in times of constant change. Change is nothing new. What is new is that the pace of change is accelerating and mindfulness trains us to focus on the moment rather than allowing our attention to be hijacked by thoughts about the past or worries about the future.” (Woods, 2012, Online)
Healthy communication is a process. It is the deliberant attempt to be a full member of the relationship. While we may make our mistakes, it is through healthy communication that we can rectify any mistakes that occur. Moreover, we can compliment our partner when positive choices are made in the relationship.
Author: Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., N.C.C.M.
Block, J. D. (2003) Naked intimacy, How to increase true openness in your relationship. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill
Hedges, K. (2011) Five communication mistakes that are holding you back. Retrieved January 19, 2013 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2011/07/15/five-communication-mistakes-that-are-holding-you-back/
Hendrix, H. & Hunt, H. L. (2004) Receiving love, Transform your relationship by letting yourself be loved. New York, NY: Atria Books
Michigan Tech University (2013) Reflective listening. Retrieved January 18, 2013 from http://www.mtu.edu/dean/conduct/officer/docs/Reflective-Listening.pdf
Reiser, P. (1994) Couplehood. New York, NY: Bantam Books
Rogers, C. R. & Farson, R. E. (1987) Active listening. Retrieved January 19, 2013 from http://www.go-get.org/pdf/Rogers_Farson.pdf
University of Colorado (2013) General information about communication problems. Retrieved January 20, 2013 from http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/problem/commprob.htm
Woods, J. (2012) Now’s the moment for mindfulness. Retrieved January 19, 2013 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/wellbeing/9772911/Nows-the-moment-for-mindfulness.html
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA