I see many people here in our office at Women's Services who struggle communicating in relationships. These problems are broad and come in a variety of relationship types from roommates, family members, or romantic relationships. Here are some steps that may make your communication with others more effective and less painful.
1. Listen: Some research suggests that the average person listens to another person for about 3 seconds before they are already thinking about what they are going to say next. A lot can be missed if we aren't truly listening beyond 3 seconds. The number one goal in a conversation should be for each person to feel understood, not for both participants to see things the same way, or for their to be a competition in which one person walks away a winner. Listening is far more than the absence of talking. Listening should be active. This includes eye contact, nodding, small verbal signals such as "Mm-Hm" or "right", as well as check-ins. The point of a check in is for the listener to check back with the communicator to make sure they are understanding. This may sound something like this: "So if I am hearing you correctly, you feel like no one is understanding you and this makes you feel sad and alone." This gives the communicator the opportunity to correct anything that was miscommunicated or misinterpreted before changing talk turns. Make sure the talker has gotten their entire message out before you begin talking. Do not interrupt.
3. Be honest: Because our nonverbal cues are so powerful and so truthful, let your words be consistent with your body language. People know when you are lying. We have all done this, when something is clearly wrong, yet when someone asks we say, "nothing is wrong." Lies lies lies! We aren't fooling anyone. It is better that you share your honest feelings than to say you feel one way while your body is clearly saying something different. Many people say things like, "nothing is wrong" when something really is, because they are angry that the person asking doesn't already know. This is nonsense. You cannot expect other people to read your mind. The fact that someone is asking you means they can see you are upset, and they are concerned in your well-being and trying to right a wrong or help you feel better. Be open in sharing your needs and feelings and send consistent messages.
4. Speak from the "I" position: When we are trying to resolve an issue with another person, we get in a lot of trouble by talked about their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, rather than our own.This sets up a conversation for defensiveness. The problem with talking about another person's behaviors and feelings is that we are usually complaining about what we don't want or pretending to be the expert about the other person. It is much more productive to communicate about your own situation. Here is an example of a comment that may trigger defensiveness: "When you went to Karen's house you weren't even thinking about me and you and her were being very rude by not including me." Speaking from the "I" position would sound something like this: "I feel hurt and somewhat lonely when I am not a part of the group. I am not sure what your experience is, but in this situation I felt lonely and hurt." You can see as you read these that the second statement elicits a much softer response. The first statement will likely start and argument because you are telling your friend that you know A,B,C, and D about her because you are in her brain. Yikes! With the second statement, it is hard to argue with you, because you are sharing honest feelings about yourself. Your friend is likely to feel sad for you and share how she was unaware you felt that way. Speaking from the "I" position can uncover people's true intentions, which are usually good.
Overall, the most promising thing you can do in communication is be kind and come from a place of love. If you come in with an attitude of love, these steps will likely come very natural to you. Happy communicating :)