By Suzanne E. Harrill
There is more to
good communication than simply expressing your views and
opinions or hearing another’s words in a conversation. Believe
it or not studies show that about 10% of communication between
two people is actually the words spoken. What makes up the rest?
Roughly 40% of the message sent is one’s tone of voice and the
last 50% is body language. The next time you need to do some
serious communicating with another, do it in person, or else you
will miss half of the message. Let us describe good
communication, how to go to a deeper level of relating where
real communication takes place, what blocks good communication,
what active listening is, and finally ten fair fighting rules to
build sound communication. The emphasis in this article is about
improving communication skills and intimacy in close
Good communication is like a circle, with one
person sending a message and the other receiving it.
Communication does not take place if one sends a message and the
other does not receive it. So simply talking does not cut it.
Many times the circle is not complete until an emotional
connection is made between two people. A dialog and discussion
that moves back and forth builds understanding. Expressing and
being heard by each partner is paramount for a genuine encounter
to take place.
Communication takes place on two levels. One
is the content level where the focus is on the words spoken;
most of the time we get by with this level of communication.
When there is conflict between two people, however, simply
emphasizing the words spoken ignores the deeper, underlying
meaning in a conversation. Feelings and emotions must be dealt
with here before good communication can take place. Many
barriers in communication stem from a failure to appreciate this
dual nature of interaction between people. Understanding of
others and yourself improves by paying attention to both levels.
Why does communication fail many times, even
when you understand there is a deeper message than the words
spoken? There are many reasons, some you have control over and
some you do not. As the sender of a message, pay attention to
your timing. If you have a deep issue that triggers your
partner, wait until a quiet time in evening, probably after
dinner to bring up the topic. When I was young I would wait for
my husband to return from work and as soon as he entered the
house I would bring up the topic that I had been pondering all
day. Poor results were achieved this way. Just because I had a
clear understanding of what I needed to say, I had to learn
there were good times and bad times to open the conversation.
Besides the timing of a conversation, you
have control over the tone of your voice and your body language.
Standing too close to someone, squarely facing them, with strong
eye contact, for example, is aggressive and puts the other
person immediately on the defensive, essentially closing
communication. Emphasizing only your point of view closes
communication as well. Learn the difference between being
aggressive and being assertive.
Being assertive is respecting both parties
and promotes equality in human relationships. It enables us to
act in our own best interest, to stand up for ourselves without
undue anxiety, and to express honestly and comfortably our
feelings, desires, goals, frustrations, opinions, etc. It is
accepting and encouraging the same from the other person as
well. To build intimacy and open communication, assertiveness
requires many of us to try out new patterns of thinking and
behaving. The more we can think before we speak, the better. And
when we mess up, go back in the ring with the intention to
practice new skills. Admit any poor choices of words that may
have hurt your partner or closed communication. Apologize if
necessary. Then reopen the dialog with what you wanted to say.
Your partner will certainly be watching you when these new
patterns of communication are being tried out. Over time the two
of you will get better and better at healthy communication.
What else gets in the way of failed
communication? One thing that gets in the way of good
communication is being unclear in the position you are taking. Many times you send
double messages when you say one thing and unconsciously mean
another. Take time alone to think and write about your point of
view, your feelings, and what you want empowers you to express
There are communication blocks that relate to
the receiver in our communication circle allegory as well. For
example, the other person may have little or no experience
working on him/herself and, therefore, not know what he/she
thinks and feels. It is common for the more unaware partner to
become defensive or angry and back off when deeper issues
surface in a conversation. It takes time to work with a partner
like this, to build trust, to help him/her take responsibility
for what he/she thinks and feels and for his/her part of the
equation. You may have to model good communication skills and
keep working on your abilities.
Now let us look at active listening, a very
helpful communication tool when dealing with children or
defensive people. This requires hearing between the lines, to go
behind the words spoken, and to pick up the feeling messages of
the other person when they get angry or withdraw. Then you
verbalize what you think they are feeling/experiencing. You can
say things like, “It sounds like you feel … about …” or
“If I were you, I would find it very difficult that … is
happening.” Sometimes you simply restate what the other just
said. People respond positively when they feel they are heard,
even if there is not agreement.
Following is a list of Fair Fighting Rules.
Consider working on only one or two at a time to build
communication skills, so as not to overwhelm yourself and the
other people in your life. Small changes over time become a part
Be nonjudgmental, (I get angry when… rather than, You
make me angry when…..)
Take responsibility for self, not other person
Do not give advice
Do not interpret, finish sentences, assume anything
Stick to the subject
Stay in the here and now
Practice silence when the other person is talking
Deal with feeling first (feelings are not right or wrong)
Problem-solve, attack the problem not the person
To build sound communication in your close
relationships there are many things you can do. Listen behind
the words and look for the deeper messages, pay attention to
tone of voice and body language. Make positive changes in the
blocks in your own communication style. Build awareness and
acceptance of your partner. Active listening opens
communication. Remind yourself of fair fighting rules often.
Practice one or two ideas at a time to make small improvements
in your communication. When
communication breaks down or you get confused, frustrated,
angry, or depressed, take time to communicate with yourself.
Spend time pondering your issues or journal writing to gain
clarity with yourself. Knowing yourself is the first step in
opening communication with others.