A Google search of this topic will identify millions (759 million to be precise) results. Included in the results are resources from Stanford’s Think Fast, Talk Smart: Communication Techniques and Harvard Business Review’s Making Relationships Work, which focuses on the communication in professional relationships, to Tony Robbins, the motivational coach and speaker, Keys to Communication in a Relationship and the famous book by Dr. Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages, both of which focuses on personal relationships.
Considering the overwhelming abundance of sources to improve communication in personal and professional relationships, a more manageable approach would be to understand four (4) fundamental principles that are effective in building and maintaining healthy relationships.
- Establishing (Sharing) the Ground Rules: A first step is to ensure that all parties (individuals) share the same philosophy on communication. Ground rules may be a term more applicable to professional relationships, but its benefits make it a useful concept to apply to personal relationships. It’s important that everyone has the same understanding and agrees with how to communicate with each other. Assuming that your approach to communication is shared by everyone is a first step to a short-lived relationship. Clearly stating and discussing your expectations with the other party removes any ambiguity. It also serves to confirm that the other party is comfortable with the approach, or not, which provides early notice of viability of the relationship.
- Listening (Not Hearing) to Understand: Hearing can be described as an unintentional consequence. While walking through a park you hear people laughing and children playing. These sounds are in your periphery and are not the result of your primary function, which is walking through a park. Truly listening to your partner is a conscious act that requires effort and concentration, without distractions and any preconceived notions, especially when they are providing you with feedback. The term undivided attention is applicable since true listening allows us to understand the words, the tone, the emotion, and the body language used to communicate. We need to be fully aware of the different sources of communication, to wholly understand what is being said.
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” Peter Drucker, world renowned management consultant.
We can be quick to have a response before the person has completed their point. This “preemptive” reaction sends a message that we’re not interested in everything that person needs to share, and we are more interested in telling them what we think. This scenario starts to create cracks in a relationship since it signals that we believe their thoughts, feelings and emotions are less important than ours.
- Fostering an Environment to Embrace Vulnerability: It can be difficult to contain the excitement and enthusiasm to share the good news, somewhat like keeping a surprise a secret. But no one is hurt or bothered by this difficulty. However, it can be a challenge to share your weakness or feelings of inadequacy. Being vulnerable has traditionally been viewed as a negative quality. However, strong and meaningful relationships make it comfortable for the other person to talk about a challenge they are facing. These environments allow the other person to find solace by confiding in someone who will listen, provide support, and help them overcome the obstacle, if needed. The ability to share these feelings increases the value of the relationship. Vulnerability is now seen as an asset to the extent that research in Leadership identified it as a symbol of strength (Entrepreneur, 2022).
- Being Receptive to Feedback: Receiving recognition for your accomplishments is always welcome. What can be less welcomed is to receive feedback. The definition of feedback includes the words “…basis for improvement…” (Oxford Dictionary, Google). Hearing that you could have done something “better” can and is often difficult to hear. While we may have overcome the concept of perfection, we still want to believe what we did was good (sufficient). Determining what is good can be subjective. We may believe that our response to a situation was appropriate; however, the other party has a different point of view. Listening to that perspective helps to strengthen a relationship, as it identifies possible sources of discontent and unhappiness. It also highlights potential blindspots that may exist outside of the relationship. A relationship that is not receptive to feedback can become stifling, since the person wants to share with you something that needs to change or be done differently. Feedback provides “oxygen” to the relationship.
Communication in a relationship is not simple or straightforward. It requires effort and persistence, and you may first get it wrong before you get it right. That’s why effective communication in a relationship requires commitment to these principles and the outcome, which is a meaningful and long-lasting relationship. //
Nigel Shane | Contributing Writer