“Learn how to communicate better” is a common goal I hear from both individuals and couples seeking therapy. After all, being able to effectively connect with others is a valuable skill set. Moreover, research continues to support how essential healthy relationships are for our physical, emotional and psychological health. So let’s talk about common communication problems and how to overcome them. Improving communication can be an important way to strengthen connections with others, and with yourself.
Common Communication Problems and Strategies to Overcome Them
Over-explaining your position, actions, or intentions
Receiving feedback from someone can elicit defensiveness. This could be for several reasons. Perhaps you feel misunderstood, disagree that you did anything wrong, or perhaps you have a different point of view on a situation. Additionally, some feedback strikes a deep emotional cord, giving way to feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or even shame. In turn, these strong emotions may compel you to explain your words or behaviors in an attempt to vindicate yourself from any wrong-doing.
However, when we focus our efforts on defending ourselves, the feedback itself isn’t heard fully. Therefore, the feedback can’t be internalized in a way that may positively impact the relationship. Instead, the person giving the feedback may feel unheard, dismissed, or possibly ignored. Over time, consequences of this type of response may include a lack of trust and closeness in the relationship. As the person trying to give feedback gets shut down by defensiveness, they may decide to stop giving it. That may sound like a relief to someone on the receiving end of feedback, but what this means for the person attempting to give it is their feelings and thoughts aren’t supported. As a result, the relationship may suffer as less honest conversations happen.
Antidote: Acknowledge and take responsibility for your part.
In order to do this, it’s crucial to fully hear the feedback. Practice active listening. Additionally, hold off on any responses that may be bubbling up inside. Simply give the person your full attention. Moreover, listen with empathy and consider what it was like for this person from their point of view. How do they feel and why? If you’ve listened effectively, you should be able to restate the other person’s experience without any of your own experience peppered in. Then, accept their perspective as their truth. Once you’ve checked in with the person to ensure you understand them correctly, it’s important to take responsibility. This can be a simple statement, but can have a powerful impact.
Avoiding conversations because you fear conflict
Despite how uncomfortable conflict may be, it is also an important part of healthy relationships. Conflict allows us to express differing opinions and beliefs, which allows us to know one another better. Further, conflict allows us opportunity to resolve differences, find compromise, and problem solve together.
Avoiding conflict stifles the exchange between people needed in healthy, growing relationships. With avoidance comes the increased likelihood of further conflict as emotions and thoughts go unexpressed, needs are unmet, and behaviors aren’t discussed. Contrary to what some may believe, addressing conflict directly does not make the conflict worse. Yes, conflict in relationships is uncomfortable. Our bodies respond to the stress of conflict physiologically. Research has shown men and women may experience this stress differently. Moreover, there may be consequences you’re concerned about once the conflict is directly addressed. However, if conflict is managed effectively, a lot can be learned and mutually beneficial solutions can be identified.
Antidote: Notice your internal response to conflct and self-soothe
Be curious when you feel overwhelmed. When does it happen? Under what circumstances? Then, find ways to self-soothe (or co-regulate) and practice them. Taking some deep breaths, or a short break can be effective ways to re-center amidst conflict. Make sure if you’re taking a break, you verbalize it and identify a time to continue the discussion.
Lack of psychological safety in a relationship
Are you withholding your thoughts, emotions, fears, concerns, etc.? When there is a lack of trust in a relationship, we may protect ourselves by not sharing important aspects of our experience. Of course, not all relationships will have the same level nor need the same level of psychological safety as others. But for some of our relationships, having psychological safety is crucial for the relationship to thrive.
Psychological safety is a sense of trust that our emotional well-being is supported. It allows us to share safely with one another, without fear of judgment. Moreover, it allows us to be cared for by another, as well as show our care towards them by offering the same in return.
Antidote: Consider why you may not feel safe in a relationship. Can trust be built or re-built?
Building trust takes time, and you may start with small steps. For example, try sharing something small but meaningful to you and notice their response. Did their response foster understanding, empathy and connection? Do they show they care about your pain, successes, struggles, worries, etc.? Responding calmly and warmly is key to conveying safety in a relationship.
Practicing Antidotes to Communication Problems Leads to Stronger Connections
Effective and satisfying communication takes practice. Even if some of the above tips seem straightforward in theory, they may be challenging in the moment. Further, many of us have patterns of engaging in communication, conflict and relationships. If you’re trying to break a pattern of interacting, be patient and compassionate with yourself as you practice.
Therapy May Help You with Common Communication Problems
Communication problems can really take a toll on our relationships. This can leave us feeling isolated and lonely. They may also cause negative consequences in other areas of our life such as work or school. If you’re struggling with communication problems, therapy can help you better understand yourself and effective ways of connecting with others. At Vitality Therapeutic Services, we offer Individual and Couple therapy, as well as Online Therapy. Contact us today to get started.
Photo credit: Photo by Christina Morillo: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-wearing-blue-top-beside-table-1181712/