The man or woman you choose to be your partner affects everything in your life. This includes our mental health, peace of mind, the love inside you, your happiness, how you get through tragedies, successes, how your children will be raised, & much more. Friendships and business relationship choices also impact our lives in countless ways. Most importantly, choosing to be a strong communicator is absolutely critical to the success of any of these relationships. Choose wisely.

Taking a Few Steps Back

Before we can jump into any relationship, we must recognize that being able to communicate effectively is, perhaps, one of the most important life skills we can have. Strong communication skills can take a lifetime to master–and even then, mastery doesn’t come to everyone. In both our personal & professional lives, being an effective communicator is a crucial skill in ensuring strong connections in relationships.

In addition to the exchange of information, it’s about understanding the emotion & intent behind the words. It’s one thing to be able to clearly & concisely convey your message, it’s another to listen to understand the message being presented to you.

Sounds easy, right? It certainly seems like it’s something that should come naturally. As I’m sure you know, that’s not always the case. The difficulty in communicating usually comes when it’s a difficult topic. The subject matter may be sensitive and therefore, fear creeps in because, at the core, we don’t want to hurt anyone. Avoidance, however, leads to misunderstandings, assumptions, & worse. Now, the overthinking kicks in: have the difficult conversation or just avoid it and deal?  Choose Wisely!

Choosing Avoidance

How many of you have avoided a conversation you know you needed to have? My hand is raised. In The Pros & Cons of Avoidance, we discuss the positive & negative aspects of avoiding a conversation or situation. While there can be advantages, most often it’s not healthy to avoid the difficult. Failure to have the tough conversation can lead to permanent damage in any relationship.

Having these conversations doesn’t mean you agree with the other party & it certainly doesn’t mean you are looking for an argument. It is simply clearing the air or asserting an understanding of & respect for each other’s thoughts or stance. Productive (and sometimes intimate) conversations minimize or eliminate misunderstandings, assumptions, and confusion.

If you choose this path, you must be prepared for the potential negative consequences. This may include the end of a partnership, romantic relationship, friendship or even the end of a long-time career.

Choosing to Communicate

Choosing to communicate is not without risk. However, unlike avoidance, even if there is some negative fallout, everyone clearly understands the thoughts, beliefs, mindset and facts about the situation. This allows for critical thinking & soul searching before moving forward with either resolution or termination.

Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity. ~ Nat Turner

The Conversation

If you choose to communicate (a wise choice), incorporating these skills will be helpful:

  • be clear & concise (use few words as possible)
  • confidence (watch your body language; be assured not arrogant & make sure your body language matches what you are saying)
  • empathy is key to a productive conversation
  • be self-aware (speaking just to speak is not effective communication; know when to contribute, know when to back off or defer to another)
  • listen (don’t get so caught up in what’s being said that you forget to listen to others)
  • pay attention to emotions (if you’re overly emotional about the situation, schedule the conversation a bit later so everyone has time to process their feelings)
  • no multi-tasking (remove all distractions; focus on the issue & the others involved)
  • listen, again (the key to effective communication is engaged listening, not simply hearing in order to give a reply; engaged listening helps you to understand the others & they feel respected, heard & understood)
  • avoid interrupting or redirecting the conversation to your interests (don’t be thinking about what you will say next, focus on what the other party is saying)
  • show interest (nodding, smiling, saying “Yes” or ” I understand” shows your engagement)
  • no judgment (you don’t have to agree and/or even like the person, however, withholding judgment is important so you can fully understand their point of view)
  • reflect and provide feedback (recap by saying “What I’m hearing is…” or “If I understand correctly…”; do not repeat their exact words but paraphrase to show sincerity)
  • be aware of the body language of the others (are they open or closed-off, relaxed or on edge of seat, maintaining eye contact or avoidance; it may be necessary to reschedule if closed-off)
  • stay calm under pressure (ask a clarifying question to regroup)
  • silence is okay (pausing is better than rushing into a response)
  • relieve stress (pause to get a drink, take some deep breaths or recall a pleasant, soothing memory)
  • humor (when appropriate, use humor to lighten the mood; sometimes it’s as easy as recalling a funny memory all parties share)
  • compromise (if one or more parties can bend a little, it may be the best investment for the relationship)
  • boundaries (if you know something is a trigger for the other, don’t bring it up now just because you’re angry or emotional)
  • assertiveness (empathetic: “I respect that you’re busy, I would also like you to make time for us” or escalating: “If you don’t abide by the contract, I’ll be forced to pursue legal action”)

Yes, there is a lot of work to have effective, productive or intimate conversations. The work outweighs the avoidance. Choose Wisely!