If the three magic words in real estate are location, location, location, then the three magic words in relationships are communication, communication, communication. But just as some locations are more desirable than others, some types of communication are more fruitful than others. More talking doesn't necessarily produce better outcomes. Sometimes, as the song goes, the words just get in the way.
Although we tend to think of good communicators as being good speakers, speaking is only one-half of the communication equation. The other, perhaps even more important half, is listening. A good listener is a good communicator because what he or she is helping to produce in that listening is greater understanding and an enhanced connection. While the content of much of our daily communication is about the sharing or transfer of information, in the world of relationships, understanding and connection are the jackpot. In Deborah Tannen's best-selling book, You Just Don't Understand, she refers to these two modes as "report talk and rapport talk."
Talking, as distinct from communicating, doesn't necessarily produce the experience of interconnectedness. If that is what you are looking for, here are a few tips:
- Set your intention. Be clear within yourself about the experience you wish to create through your communication and acknowledge that to both yourself and to your partner.
- Create Agreement. Check in with your partner to see if this is a good time to talk. If it's not, then try to come up with a mutually agreed upon time that works for both of you.
- Eliminate or minimize distractions. Whenever possible, turn off the TV, don't answer the phone, don't be available to others, put down the newspaper, and avoid multitasking like driving, working or emailing while you're speaking to each other. Give the other person your full attention!
- Speak from your experience. Express your feelings and thoughts rather than your opinions, criticism, judgment, or advice.
- Don't interrupt. Let the other person finish what they're saying before you take your turn. The more complete they feel with what they have to say, the more open and interested in what you have to say they'll be.
- You can be right or you can relate. Resist the temptation to take issue with something you disagree with. Rather than making your partner wrong ("That's not what happened,") let them know your perspective, such as "The way I remember it was..." And keep in mind that it's likely that there's some truth and some distortion in each of your perspectives. Remember: Not disagreeing with someone does not mean that you agree with them.
- Thank your partner for accepting your request to talk and find something positive to acknowledge him or her for.
- Keep the dialogue alive. If you run out of time before you both feel complete with the conversation, try to create an agreement to resume it at another time. If possible, be specific about when.
Following these guidelines won't guarantee a successful result every time, but doing so will make that outcome more likely. Non-reactive listening and non-blaming speaking are learned skills that can be cultivated with practice. If you're like most people, you have no shortage of practice opportunities in your life. Take advantage of them and enjoy the process!