Relationship Success

Effective Communication


Communication is a crucial aspect of any significant relationship. What we say and how we say it can and will impact the course and condition of the relationship. Better communication will tend to enhance a relationship, while poor communication is likely to strain a relationship.

What kinds of communications are there?

There are various types of communication, which exist with different purposes. I find it helpful to divide communications into categories because some couples have more trouble with one category than another. Identifying the trouble spots in their communicational array will make for more specific and speedy solutions to their communication problems.

Instrumental Communication: This type of communication aims to share information with the hearer so that the hearer does something we want or need them to do. Instrumental communications can vary widely in significance. For instance, we are communicating instrumentally if we tell our spouse that we are running out of milk and we would appreciate if they could pick some up on their way home from work. We are communicating instrumentally if we tell our spouse we need them to stop drinking or the relationship is at risk of becoming unmanageable.

Informational Communication: This type of communication intends to share information with the hearer because we believe the hearer might want to or might need to know the information we have but they do not have. We are providing informational communication when we tell our spouse that they have a message on the answering machine. We are providing informational communication when we tell our significant other that we love them.

Collaborative Communication: This type of communication attempts to share information about a problem or uncertainty and receive assistance from the hearer about the problem or uncertainty. For instance, we might say to our spouse, “I am worried about our child’s grades and wonder what we can do to help her raise them.”

Casual Communication: This type of communication is talk for the sake of talking. This type of communication is not to be underestimated in terms of importance. Keeping up a comfortable stream of casual communication with our significant other can be a source of great comfort and strength for both of you.

What makes for good communication?

First, an effective communication is one that is clear and generally brief. It gets the message across in a manner that does not leave much room for ambiguity and misinterpretation. The effective communication does not bring in extraneous details that distract the hearer from the core message to be conveyed. At the same time, the effective communication does not omit important details that could help the hearer to understand the speaker¹s perspective and experience better.

Second, an effective communication (even one that intends to express hurt, disappointment, or anger) minimizes overtones of personal rancor directed at the receiver. Ideally, the effective communication is posed in such a way as to allow continued constructive dialogue that seeks to resolve the problem, as opposed to initiating a cycle of escalating attack and counterattack.

Why is good communication important?

Good communication conveys our needs and wants effectively. This is not just good for us. It is also good for the person with whom we are communicating. The hearer is not left with a sense of uncertainty or anxiety about what we need or want them to do or to understand. The hearer is also in a better position to communicate effectively back to us. The development of effective communication therefore not only helps problems get resolved more quickly, it builds trust and confidence between the people communicating. We feel like we are on the same page. This trust and confidence contributes to the strength of the relationship and can help it weather the inevitable difficulties that occur between people.

What are some tips for communicating more effectively?

  • Take a little time to formulate your thoughts and feelings into a message that you believe the hearer will be able to understand and respond to.
  • Take a brief inventory of what you are planning on saying. Are there some elements to the communication that merely vent frustration towards the hearer and do not really serve a constructive purpose? Those elements typically negatively impact the communication process and are sometimes lethal to it.
  • Determine whether or not the situation is right for the communication to take place. Could you bring up the matter at a better juncture, when you and the other person really have the time to sort through a complicated issue? For instance, are the children there and do they really need to be exposed to what you are contemplating communicating?
  • If the matter to be discussed is an emotionally charged one, try to go into the communication as calmly as possible. This might mean taking a few deep breaths, getting a glass of water, waiting a few minutes before you start, and focusing on what you believe you need to communicate, as opposed to focusing on the angry or hurt feelings.
  • Even during very difficult discussions, a little humor can sometimes go a very long way to easing tensions and reminding the other person that you really want to resolve the situation successfully and as a team.
  • Make respect a rule. Speak to the other person they way you would like them to speak to you. Avoid insulting language and profanity. If your partner wants to end the conversation, or put it on hold, let them.
  • Anger is not a bad thing in and of itself. It is a necessary, preservative emotion, which lets us know that there is probably something in our environment that is not healthy for us and to which we need to respond. Listen to and respect the angry feelings—use them as a guide if you will. But remember that in addition to the emotions of anger and fear, human beings have developed extremely sophisticated reasoning processes and conflict resolution skills that we should also employ.
  • Remember what communication is about. Communication typically intends that a dialogue take place between yourself and the person with whom you are communicating. The quality of that dialogue will in large part determine the success of your outcome. You have responsibility for the quality of half of that dialogue.

By Nathan S. Wagner, PsyD MBA

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