How to Be More Effective in Relationships (Effective Communication)
Relationships end for different reasons.
Romantic relationships, for example, may end because there’s no chemistry or because the people in the relationship want different things.
But often, relationships end when they don’t have to.
One reason for this is lack of communication or non-effective communication.
Effective communication helps us connect with each other in a way that enriches our lives and creates depth in our personal relationships.
In this article, you’ll learn how to communicate effectively and create more depth in your personal relationships.
Let’s dive right in!
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One way we’re blocking compassion in our conversations is by using moralistic judgments that point out the people’s wrongdoings that are not in line with our values.
These judgments can take the form of blame, insults, labels, criticism, comparison…
When we speak this language, our attention is focused on determining what’s wrong with others for behaving in certain ways rather than on what we and others need and are not getting.
Instead of thinking “my partner needs more affection” we might accuse him/her of being “too needy and dependent.”
But when we’re the ones who need more affection and aren’t getting it, he/she is “insensitive and uncaring.”
This compassion blocking conversation will either increase people’s defensiveness and resistance, or make people agree to what we’re demanding out of fear, guilt, or shame.
We pay dearly when people respond to our needs out of a sense of either external or internal coercion. Sooner or later, their goodwill diminishes and they’re more likely to feel resentful.
4 Communication Styles
Communication styles refer to the way we tend to communicate.
There are four typical communication styles:
People in this group, often don’t communicate at all. Instead, they stuff their emotions.
They may do this out of fear of hurting others, but they may also believe that their opinions and feelings don’t matter as much as those of others.
If this describes you, you want to be aware that being passive may result in others violating your rights and not respecting your own needs, which eventually leads to resentment and conflict in your relationships.
This is when someone dominates and controls others.
Someone who is aggressive in his communication style, is usually direct, but in a demanding way.
This may leaves others feeling resentful, hurt, and often fearful of the aggressive person.
A passive-aggressive communicator is someone who doesn’t express themselves directly.
They share the passive person’s fear of confrontation, but would still attempt to get their needs met using indirect ways, such as sarcasm, silent treatment, not following through on a promise and saying they “forgot,” etc.
This communication style can be very confusing to others and even manipulative.
Assertiveness is when you express your thoughts and feelings in a direct and honest way.
When you’re assertive, you effectively listen and negotiate in a way that gets your own needs met while also trying to meet the needs of the other person as much as possible.
This communication style shows that you respect yourself as well as the person you’re communicating with.
How to Communicate More Effectively?
#1. Observe Without Evaluating
The first step toward effective communication requires separating observation from the evaluation.
In fact, when observation and evaluation are combined, the likelihood that others will hear our intended message will decrease.
Instead, they’ll more likely hear criticism and contempt and not respond to our needs.
This doesn’t mean that you need to remain completely objective and refrain from evaluating. It simply requires you to evaluate based on what you observe.
Make your observation specific for that time and that context.
Don’t use the words always, never, ever, whenever, etc. these words confuse observation with evaluation and can provoke defensiveness rather than compassion.
Instead of telling your partner that he’s uncaring, try to identify the incidents that made you feel not cared about, and point them out for him before expressing how you thought it was uncaring from him.
#2. Identify And Express Feelings
The second step toward effective communication is to identify and express how we are feeling.
We live in a culture that seems to consider feelings less important than “the right way to think”.
We tend to accept this attitude as truth—to our detriment. In fact, because we often fail to identify and express our feelings, we end up hurting other people and not having our needs met.
When a wife is feeling lonely and is seeking more emotional contact, telling her husband something like “I feel like I’m living with a wall” is more likely going to be heard as criticism than a request to connect more emotionally. He ends up feeling hurt and even more discouraged to connect.
It’s important to keep in mind that a sentence that starts with “I feel” isn’t always an expression of feelings and can often be replaced with the “I think”.
In fact, it’s not necessary to use the word feel when expressing a feeling.
Saying “I feel unimportant to you” is a description of how you think that person is perceiving you. An actual expression of feelings might be “I feel sad” or “I feel hurt.”
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#3. Take Responsibility For Your Own Feelings
The third step toward effective communication is to take responsibility for our feelings.
This means that we need to acknowledge that what others say or do can be the stimulus, but never the cause of our feelings.
In fact, our feelings are the result of how we choose to receive what others say or do, and what needs and expectations we have.
When we receive a negative message from someone, whether it was verbal or nonverbal, we have four options as to how to react to it:
1. Take it personally by hearing the blame and criticism
We accept the other person’s judgment and blame ourselves. When someone tells us that we’re selfish, we think to ourselves, “I should’ve been more sensitive.”
This can take a toll on our self-esteem as it leads us to feel guilty and ashamed.
2. Fault the speaker
As a response to being accused of selfishness, we can respond by saying “That’s not true! I’m always considering your needs. You’re the one who’s really selfish.”
Blaming the speaker this way will likely leave us feeling angry.
3. Shining the light on our own needs and feelings
We might reply, “When I hear say that I’m selfish, I feel hurt because I need some recognition of my efforts to be considerate of your needs.”
This makes us more conscious that our feelings of hurt are a result of needing recognition for our efforts.
4. Shining the light on the other person’s needs and feelings
We might ask, “Are you feeling hurt because you need more consideration for your own needs and preferences?”
We accept responsibility for our feelings, by acknowledging our own needs, desires, expectations, values, or thoughts.
Taking responsibility for the feelings of others, on the other hand, can easily be mistaken for positive caring.
It might appear that you’re caring for the other person when you feel bad for their suffering. But if you change your behavior according to the other person’s wishes, you might not act from the heart and simply act to avoid guilt.
In a culture that judges revealing our needs, doing so can be very frightening. We often learn to ignore our own needs.
However, since we can’t do without these needs, we end up asking them in a way that both reflects and reinforces the beliefs that we have no right to our needs and that they’re unimportant.
So when a woman, for example, is feeling tired and needs some time for herself, she might find herself complaining about the endless chores she had to do that day.
And while all she wants is for her partner to give some help, he might hear criticism and become defensive. In the end, she’s again persuaded that her needs don’t matter.
The course of developing emotional responsibility usually starts with an emotional liberation from the belief that we’re responsible for the feelings of others, and that it’s our responsibility to keep everyone happy.
All while, acknowledging that we can’t meet our own ends at the expense of others.
#4. Request That Which Meets Your Needs
The fourth step toward a more effective communication is to request that which fulfill your needs.
How do we make requests that make others more willing to respond compassionately to our needs?
1. Use positive action language
You need to express what you’re requesting instead of what you’re not requesting.
For example, a wife who wants her husband to spend more time with her can ask him not to spend so much time at work, only to find out that he decided to start going to the gym.
A request that is worded in the negative, often, leaves people confused as to what is actually being requested.
2. Make requests consciously
Often times, people don’t get what they need simply because they don’t really know what they need in the first place. We might express our discomfort and assume that the listener has understood the underlying request.
A mother might say to her son, “I’m annoyed that your room is such a mess.” While it may be obvious to her that she’s asking him to tidy up his room, her son may think that her words were only mean to make him feel guilty.
3. Don’t demand
When people state their request without first expressing the feelings and needs behind it, their request might be perceived as a demand by the listener.
“Why don’t you stop eating this junk food and go on a healthy diet?” can be heard by the listener as a demand or an attack. Instead, you can say “I’m worried that this junk food will affect your health negatively. How about eating less of it and introducing more healthy food into your diet?”
Effective Communication In A Nutshell
In order to communicate more effectively, four steps need to be followed:
1. Observe without evaluating.
2. Identify and express feelings.
3. Take responsibility for your own feelings.
4. Requesting that which would fulfill your needs.
First, you need to observe what is actually happening in a situation. You need to observe what others are saying or doing without introducing any judgment or evaluation. Then simply say what people are doing that you either like or don’t like.
Next, you state how you feel when you observe this action. Are you feeling hurt, scared, irritated, amused?
Then you express what needs of yours are connected to the feelings you’ve identified. For example, a wife can take responsibility for her own feelings by saying “Honey when I see your clothes piled up on the floor, I feel irritated because I need more order in our room.”
Finally, the wife can proceed to make a very specific request: “Would you put your clothes back in the closet or in the washing machine?”
Effective communication is a clear expression of the four components mentioned above.
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- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, © 1999 by Marshall B. Rosenberg. All rights reserved.