Communication & Conflict Resolution
Communication isn’t always the most important issue that causes problems in a person’s life, but it’s often the issue that needs to be dealt with first. The simple reason is because nothing constructive can be accomplished without good and effective ways to communicate. So, while most people can understand and appreciate the need to address their communication issues, it is often the first area to address that grants us clarity and understanding on the other areas that need to be addressed. This is why out of all the Core Four Skills, the communication and connection skill is usually the first one we evaluate and develop.
The Good: Speaking Vulnerably and Listening Empathetically
People don’t care what you have to say until you are careful in how you say it. Likewise, people won’t feel like you understand them until you understand what it feels like to be them. The idea here is to create a deep and intimate connection. When we speak to others we care about, we are ultimately looking to be understood. I might say, “Why didn’t you think to tell me about that decision?” but what I really mean and what I really need understood is, “When you decide on things without talking to me, I feel like you don’t think about me, consider me, or think I must be important enough for you to ask me what I think.”
To speak vulnerably means to cut to the heart of what needs to be said and where we long to feel understood. It takes insight, courage, and grace to speak with such vulnerability. Being able to do so is half the equation to achieving connection.
The other half? Well that’s on the listener’s end. When we listen and respond, we’re looking to be understood too, or perhaps simply to not be misunderstood or treated unfairly. I might think, “Where does she get off questioning my decision?” However, to listen empathetically requires a keen ability to understand the meaning and emotion behind what’s being said. “It sounds like I hurt you a lot, and though I wasn’t thinking about how it’d impact you at the time, I can understand why you’d feel like you weren’t very important to me. I think I’d feel like that too.”
You might wonder, who talks like that? The answer: people with strong and healthy relationships. It’s not easy, and like anything else, it requires practice and repetition. Just like any new skill, it’s awkward and clumsy and even feels silly at first. But in time, the ability to speak vulnerably and listen empathetically will be your lifeline when the going really gets rough in relationships.
The Bad: Why People Don’t Speak and Listen This Way
So, what makes doing this so hard? People don’t speak vulnerably because either:
They lack the insight and awareness to know what they’re actually feeling and what they need to say.
They’re too afraid to say what they really feel, believing the listener might not care about how they feel, or worse, that they’ll ridicule them for feeling that way at all.
Because of this, people speak with guardedness and aggression. This tends to look like one or more of the following:
Using “parental” tones in their communication
Speaking in terms of “you” instead of “I”
It’s feels like a safer and stronger bet to attack another person’s behavior than to divulge what they really feel and think. Sometimes, it just feels better and more cathartic to speak that way than to do so with vulnerability. But speaking vulnerably is the only path to connection and resolution. You just have to work up the skill and courage to do so.
How about the receiving end? People don’t listen empathetically because of an auto-reflex that kicks in when there’s a perceived attack or insult. People either:
Withdraw or shutdown
Try to fix and make things better as fast as possible
The common denominator is that these are all ways to deflect a perceived attack, and the result is the inability to sense and engage the emotions that are being conveyed. Put simply, it’s just hard to feel sorry for someone who’s hurting you. Whether it’s an intentional attack or just a perceived attack, the empathetic listener has to learn to connect emotionally with the speaker. Doing this will require developing a slew of other skills and capabilities, but doing this is a necessity in order to create connection and resolution in a marriage.
The Ugly: How to Know When Your Communication Is Destructive
The first red flag when it comes to destructive communication is fighting when you’re flooded. Nothing good is ever said when emotions like anger and anxiety overrun all your sensibilities. Of course, it’s not reasonable or realistic to not feel these emotions in conflict. The objective isn’t to not feel them, but rather to know how to stabilize them and understand what they’re trying to tell you about what you really feel. Good communication depends on the ability to know how to manage the flood of these intense emotions and to uncover the deeper reasons for why you’re feeling them.
Another easy way to spot destructive communication is looking out for one of these four patterns.
Withdraw: Shutting down emotionally, verbally, or physically
Escalation: Ramping up the intensity of a conflict using aggressive words or actions
Negative Interpretation: Filtering words or actions of another through a negative lens
Invalidation: Communicating words that minimize or belittle the listener
Hire a Translator
Learning how to communicate well is a lot like learning a new language. In some ways, it’s harder because at least when you’re learning a new language, you assume you know nothing and you can learn fresh and from the ground up. There’s nothing to unlearn. In other ways, it can be easier once you learn a few basics and get over the initial learning curve.
In the beginning, it helps to have a counselor to help you evaluate your communication patterns and start making adjustments. A trained counselor can help adjust the way you speak and how you listen and respond. At first, you’ll start off with simple techniques and changes to your form. You’ll start with smaller conflicts as points of practice and exercise. Over time, however, your counselor will begin to push the limits of your new-found skills by allowing you to engage in more complicated and potentially heated conflicts.
This is all part of a very intentional and structured process aimed at helping you to develop and grow in your communication and conflict-resolution skills. If you’re ready to get to work on this and other areas of your life, reach out to us and we can help you find success in these areas.