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Communication Woes

Updated: May 8, 2023

Everyone has probably heard that the heart of most relationship problems is in the quality of communication. If we're speaking the same language, though, why is communication such a troublesome thing? Communication gets jumbled up when each person has a different communication style, or preference. Some of us love to be heard, some of us avoid being heard. Some of us have strong opinions, some of us have fluctuating opinions. Some people have clear intentions when they speak, and do so strategically, while others fly by the seat of their pants and blurt things out with no filter. Some people listen while the other is talking, some people are busy preparing their response or making assumptions and projections rather than listening.

Regardless of your communication needs, desires, or intentions, one thing is certain: some rules of engagement need to apply so that the relationship, no matter what the nature, can thrive. Because good communication builds connection, trust, and understanding, and bad communication can kill a relationship (of any kind) in one conversation.

That’s pretty powerful, isn’t it?

So how do you insure clear, respectful, relationship-building communication?

Here’s some things to consider:

1. Think before you speak. Truly, this is one of the most useful tools that everyone has in their pocket- the ability to think about what we wish to communicate, before we even open our mouths. Before you say you can't do this, know that it is a learnable skill, and what we practice, we can master.

So why is this so valuable? Because filtering your thoughts can help you not only save yourself from "foot-in-mouth syndrome", but also insure that what you communicate builds credibility and connection.

Here’s some filters to run your thoughts through to improve the quality of your communication.

Think about the person you're attempting to communicate with:

Who is in front of me?

Is what I want to say appropriate for their age?

Is what I want to say appropriate for the type of relationship that I have with them?

Think about why you want to say what you're about to say:

What is my intended outcome for what I have in mind to communicate?

Do the thoughts and words I’ve chosen align with my intention?

Does it really need to be said?

Why do I want to communicate these thoughts to the other person right now?

Check your ego:

Do I need to be the one saying this to this person?

Is my ego trying to show off here?

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates
At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?”
At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”
At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”
~ Rumi

2. check your assumptions, interpretations, negative filters, and projections before you respond

We can easily get triggered by what the other person says to us, too. So before you respond, check if you're making negative assumptions about the person. If yes, ask a clarifying question to see if your assumption is true. In a lot of cases, it won't be, and that will save you some misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Also check your interpretations of what they're saying. Often we interpret things based on our own lived experiences in the past, even with other people. This is a negative filter and it's our ego's way of protecting us from future harm. However, it doesn't allow us to see the person in front of us clearly if we're interpreting their communications or behavior based on something someone else said or did in the past. Indeed, this is how we can slip into projecting a false truth onto the other person. Again, ask a clarifying question to better understand their true intentions, and keep your mind in the present moment!

Another helpful tip here is to remember the 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz:

* Be impeccable with your word

* Don't take anything personally

* Don't make assumptions

* Always do your best

3. Find out each others love language--no matter what type of relationship you're dealing with, the 5 Love Languages can give you a clue into how you're perceiving others and feeling perceived by them. Some people feel heard and appreciated with Words of Affirmation. Others feel heard and appreciated with Quality Time. For others it's Acting of Service, or Gift Giving, or Physical Touch. Knowing how the other person most feels heard, appreciated, and even loved can be a powerful tool for making your communication style with them something that's connective and relationship-building.

4. Make sure you each have the capacity for the type of conversation you're attempting to have.

Any couple's therapist will tell you: never fight when one or both of you is hungry, tired, ill, or already overwhelmed. In short, if one or both of you has no bandwidth, or capacity, for the type of conversation and level of communication you want to have, you are going to be setting yourself up for failed communication if you proceed with the conversation.

So how do you work with that, especially if you feel urgency in what you wish to communicate?

Well, you're going to have to build capacity to patiently wait for the other person (or yourself) to be ready. This is an act of love, respect, and integrity. By allowing them or you to have capacity, you are saying, "I love myself enough," or "I love/value/appreciate them enough" that I am willing to wait for a better moment to have this conversation. One where we are both refreshed and able to truly be present with what is being communicated.

Doing this also demonstrates respect for yourself and the other person, which is a foundation for successful communication.

And making sure that you and the other person each have the capacity for the conversation will increase the likelihood of each being in integrity with the words that are spoken. We all have things we wish we hadn't said in our past "bag of shame" because it was out of integrity with who we want to be in the world. That can be avoided by insuring you both have capacity.

So ask yourself, "Does what I wish to say need to be said right now?" and, "do we both have the capacity to have this conversation right now?"

If the answer is no, one or both of us does not have the capacity, you can still state your desire to have a conversation, and then agree upon a better time to have it. That way you're not left hanging, wondering when it will ever be the right time, and they are able to build their inner resources to fully be in the conversation with you.

You can also take a stab at implementing the “wait 5 min rule.” This is especially helpful for people who tend to be impulsive and blurt things out that tend to be either unhelpful, unkind, or misunderstood. Use those 5 minutes, or longer, to go through all of the above questions to insure that your communication is as clear and appropriate as possible.

5. To take this to a deeper level, apply this to how you talk to yourself as well

These steps apply to your conversations with yourself as much as with others. Oooh, yes, we do have a relationship with ourselves, too, don’t we? Do you ever think about how you communicate to yourself? How does what you think about yourself affect your relationship with yourself?

If you are unsure of the answer to the above questions, or if you have to put a pin in the conversation while you and/or the other person rejuvenates and builds capacity, take out a pen and paper, or the notes app on your phone, and journal it out first. When thoughts are jumbled up in our heads, they have a tendency to come out in unfortunate ways. When we get our thoughts out on paper first, we can organize them, make sense of them, and if necessary, remove the emotional charge before relating them to the other person in a conversation. This is golden!

If pausing before speaking, or awareness of your intentions is difficult for you, I highly recommend taking up a meditation practice. Even 5-10 minutes a day to silently witness the thoughts floating by can create the ability to separate yourself from your thoughts. Isn’t it wonderful that we have thoughts, but we are NOT our thoughts?!

Alternatively, you can take up a daily Morning Pages practice in which you simply brain-dump all the thoughts in your head onto your paper, even if it doesn't make sense or come out organized. This is to start your day with a clear mind.

As a final tip, don’t believe everything you think. Or read. Experiment with this yourself, and find out what works best for you.


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