Healthy communication is the cornerstone of any functional relationship. For many, however, it can be hard to know exactly what healthy communication looks and sounds like, especially if we did not have it modeled to us while growing up. Even if we did have good examples of effective communication as kids, it can still be challenging to communicate in a healthy manner when emotions run high, or when we are triggered. Next time you are hoping to communicate something important to someone, here are some basics to get you started.
Ensure you are having the conversation at a time and place that works for everybody involved.
- Limit distractions and interruptions such as cellphones, TV, or any other type of noise and avoid crowded areas.
- Choose a mutually agreed upon time and location.
- Make sure you are not tired, hungry, stressed, or need to use the bathroom as this can make it challenging to engage fully and meaningfully in conversation.
Describe clearly and concisely the facts of what you’d like to address.
- Discuss only one situation at a time to ensure the conversation stays on topic. Set aside another time to discuss other separate issues that may come up.
- Communicate assertively by clearly stating what you want and need. Be as specific as possible about what you are hoping to accomplish during the conversation.
- Using “I” statements can help focus on how a certain situation is affecting you, rather than placing blame on others. There are various ways to phase an “I” statement, such as “I feel ____ when _____”; “I would like ____ instead of _____”; or “I need ______.” “I” statements tend to be less hostile and provide opportunity for connection. In contrast, a blaming statement may sound something like “you don’t care about me;” or “you are no help at all.” These types of statements tend to make people become defensive and disconnected.
Be respectful when speaking.
- Frame what you are saying as requests as opposed to demands.
- Use gentle body language and tone of voice. This may include speaking with your arms uncrossed, relaxing your shoulders, and waiting for your turn to speak without interrupting. Avoid eye rolling, mocking or any other body language that could derail the conversation.
- Embody an attitude of teamwork and collaboration, as opposed to placing blame.
Be prepared to negotiate and compromise.
- Know your own limits of what you are willing to accept and be prepared to compromise with others as needed. Consider alternative options that consider other factors, points of view, and feelings.
- Take breaks from the conversation as needed, with a secondary time to return to the topic if things are not going as planned.
Reinforce the other person if they respond thoughtfully to the discussion.
- Thank the other person for listening and addressing the issue.
- Nod, smile, and use any other body gesture that demonstrates appreciation.
You may be wondering what you should do if you still need more help with effective communication skills. Sometimes it may be beneficial to have a time and place to process, reflect, and practice these skills with a professional. The Counseling Center at PRO Medical is a great resource to connect with a clinician for in-person or telehealth visits for additional support. Contact the PRO Counseling Center at (425) 376-3320 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by MILANA DAVYDOVA, MA, LMHC
Milana Davydova is a licensed by the State of Washington as a Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). She graduated from the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Master’s Program at Seattle University and specializes in individual psychotherapy with teens and adults. She utilizes a person-centered, strengths-based, holistic, and trauma-informed lens when working with clients. When appropriate, she employs techniques and skills from a variety of evidence-based therapeutic modalities, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Acceptance Commitment Therapy. These approaches provide concrete tools for facilitating change and improvement in mood, behavior, and functioning.