Particularly when venturing into new relationships, there’s likely to be hesitation, hypervigilance, and ambiguity. There isn’t a universal template for engaging others and empathic communication. We often learn by modeling from those around us, of whom may or may not have been savvy communicators themselves, or by experience, which may have been positive or negative. Given that there’s no prescribed guide here are things to consider when venturing into new relationships.
Some common mistakes that people make that ruin new relationships include:
* You treat them how you like to be treated. You treat people how you like to be treated and what they need is probably different than what you may need. Put it out there and express that you don’t necessarily know what to do or say to support them and directly ask what they need from you.
* Someone reaches out to you expressing distress and you wait to get back to them. If someone reaches out and expresses distress of any kind; that generally means that they want to connect with you. It’s best to approach them rather quickly and strike while the iron is hot. If you don’t, you run the risk of them not approaching you again and not feeling attended to.
* You don’t ask about the person’s thoughts, feelings and history because you don't want to “pry.” You may be assuming that a person will feel it’s premature. If it is, they will undoubtedly let you know by expressing that to you directly or will implicitly communicate it through body language or otherwise.
* You say you know how someone thinks or feels. Don’t assume that you know how someone thinks or feels, even if you experienced similar circumstances. Every circumstance can be different and every reaction to the circumstance can be different too.
* You relate your own personal story too early on. We do this to normalize things for the other person, to be able to relate to their story, and to connect with another person. Often the focus turns onto you and leaves them behind.
However good the intention, trying to relate to them and sharing some of your own experiences shifts the focus onto you and detracts from them feeling acknowledged, validated, and understood. People are talking because they want to be heard. Hear them out fully. You could ask them if there’s more they want to express about it, and then relate to their story purposely and mindfully. Always bring the conversation full circle checking back in with them.
* You share too much too soon. You don’t want to overshare and then leave the interaction feeling overly vulnerable, exposed and/or embarrassed to ever face the person again. Share in spurts and assess their reactions and comfort level as you share.
When people are uncomfortable, they tend to avoid eye contact, look away, change the subject, and/or not revisit the subject/topic again. Take those as cues as to how open or ready the person is in taking in that information or increasing the intimacy in the relationship. If they show signs of backing off, respect where they’re at and contemplate sharing again in the future.
* You cut off others feelings prematurely. When someone shares personal and/or emotionally charged content, you immediately try to make them feel better and tell them "you'll be okay", "it could be worse", "time heals everything", "shrug it off”, “keep a stiff upper lip”, and/or “just get over it." This can make them feel cut off and/or misunderstood. You can try “I’m listening”, “I hear you” and “tell me more about that” to facilitate connection and communication.
* You interrupt. Just listen. Most people just want to be heard. They don’t want to be questioned, interrupted, or reveal the intricacies of their circumstance -- especially early in the relationship. They are more likely to feel interrogated, rather than validated.
* You don't take personal responsibility about something you did or said. You immediately become defensive when they explain how you made them feel. You could be aware of your “truth” and listen and try to understand theirs as well. You may learn something about them and yourself in the process.
* You keep the conversation at a superficial level. When you share nothing or very little about yourself personally and keep the communication and interaction on a superficial level because you're afraid you'll be judged, criticized, or for some other reason, you risk intimacy in the relationship. You could share minimally at the beginning and take further emotional risks as the relationship evolves.
As individuals, our emotionality, our desires, and our needs, are unique. It’s understandable that our relationships would be extremely complex, so much so that they need to be worked on continually. Recognize that committing to a life of open and intimate communication and connection in our relationships also requires us to be open to potentially experience discomfort, rejection, fear, etc. In the end, being vulnerable is well worth it. The alternative is being cut off emotionally and interpersonally.
It’s the “action” that counts, rather than the “intention.” These tips can be helpful and applicable across all relationships. Empathic and engaged communication fosters intimacy in a relationship. To fully open ourselves up to it, we have to learn skills to effectively communicate and gain the confidence to reach out to others and show that we genuinely care.