Whether we acknowledge it or not, humans are very communicative beings. We learn from a young age to communicate our wants, our needs, our likes and dislikes. Take a baby, for example. Without even being taught how to do so, that infant is communicating with the people around them in every moment: he or she cries when hungry or tired, makes a face when tasting something unfamiliar or unpleasant, laughing when entertained or amused. This act of communicating our needs doesn’t disappear when we grow older, it just grows more refined – or it should.
Interestingly, becoming an adult sometimes means that healthy communication gets harder. As adults, we can’t stick out our tongue when the boss asks for those papers on their desk; we can’t throw things down the aisle when the grocery store is out of our favorite granola; we certainly can’t scream at maintenance personnel when we’re told that our car needs new tires. Interacting with other people requires communication and a grip on the emotions behind our words.
Effectively communicating, whether with a partner, a supervisor or a friend, requires mastering certain skills to make sure you feel heard and everyone else feels respected. So the next time you find yourself having a difficult discussion, or find the need to confront someone about a certain issue, keep these pointers in mind.
Leave the past in the past
Deal with the issue at hand. It might be tempting to mention a laundry list of wrongs done to you by this person, but this can be unproductive. Discussions can become exceedingly confusing if past events are brought up. You’re not solving what happened last month, you’re trying to resolve what’s happening now.
For example, if you’re frustrated that your son always leaves the car’s tank of gas empty when he returns from work, and it’s an established habit he’s maintained for the past 6 months, it’s more productive to say, “When you use all the gas in the car, will you please fill it up? It makes me late for work in the mornings when I have to stop for gas.” This is much less likely to put him on the defensive than saying, “For the past 6 months you’ve left the car on empty every time you use it, and you need to stop.” By staying focused on the matter at hand, a discussion stays on track and doesn’t fall prey to tangents that send everyone back in time.
This might seem obvious, but in a world dictated by technological communication, it’s so easy to bring up conflict from behind the safety of the screen. Don’t send a text, email or a message when a conversation is more appropriate. And this goes for any kind of meaningful conversation. Body language, tone of voice and overall human connection are lost when conversations are held over messaging. What you might’ve intended as a joke could come off as an insult; perhaps what was meant as a completely neutral statement was read as a negative comment. Messaging, because it’s so easily misconstrued, can incite chaos without intention. For this reason, always opt for in-person communication when possible.
People want to be heard and known. If you spend the entirety of a conversation thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’re not actively listening to the other person. If you don’t listen, what you end up saying could be unhelpful, confusing or even repetitive. Conversations don’t need to follow a “I talk, then you talk, then I talk, then you talk” pattern. Rather, there can be natural breaths, pauses and moments where you think before responding. If you listen to what another individual has to say, and you listen all the way through without interrupting, you may find that your friend worked out the problem completely on their own without your comments. And sometimes that’s all we need – a sounding board to be present while we process our own thoughts and feelings.
Give input when asked
Sometimes people don’t talk for any other reason other than to vent. And that’s completely fine. If they’re frustrated with the behavior of a coworker and are explaining to you the ways they feel wronged by this person, they probably aren’t looking for significant input from your end. Use prudence when handing out advice. And it’s ok to ask your friend or peer what they expect from you in this conversation! Are they looking for a listening ear, or active response? If they ask “What should I do?” or “What are your thoughts?”, then feel free to share them.
Pay attention to emotions
This goes for your emotions and the emotions of the other person. If the topic is tender, one or both parties might become emotional during the discussion. Emotions, while good, can get in the way of a completely civil discussion and can cause real damage is expressed out of turn. If, during the course of a conversation, you feel yourself becoming anxious, irrationally angry, deeply saddened or overcome by any intense emotion, recognize that you may need to pause the conversation and return when your emotions are under control. The same goes for the other person. If you notice him or her becoming nervous, angry, etc., offer a recess. But don’t let it go on for too long; a couple hours typically is good to reset emotions and tackle the issue once more.
At Real Recovery Clinical Services, we believe kindness and respect are key to sustaining healthy communication skills. Keeping your own emotions in check, as well as being aware of the needs of the other can keep a discussion moving smoothly and reach conclusions peacefully. If you’re ready to take concrete steps toward a brighter, substance-free future, we’re ready to help. Call 1-855-363-7325 today, for more information on pursuing freedom through recovery founded in proven PHP, IOP and OP drug and alcohol use services.