In my practice I meet with many folks who discuss their frustration with partners, co-workers, children and friends because they are being quite clear in their communication and the other person has a completely inappropriate response. I hear things like “I was quite clear when I said….” and “He knows exactly what I meant!” In return, these folks get angry and say things like “Well, what he said was…” and “She actually used those words!”
It is completely understandable that relationships, no matter how strong, can be challenged by basic communication. This is because basic communication is anything but basic. As children we are taught vocabulary. We are never taught how to communicate. In school, we are given vocabulary tests, not communication quizzes. We have to learn how to take the ever increasing list of vocabulary words we know to string them together to make concepts and thoughts so that others can understand what is going on in our heads. We learn this by watching our families and how they communicate, hanging out with our friends and what patterns we can see through television and other media, but is all inferred rather that taught. We are then set out on the world to be great communicators.
If someone has a poor vocabulary, they are deemed to be poor communicators and judgments are made about their intelligence or mental acuity. If someone’s vocabulary is too developed, they are deemed to be stuffy or haughty. So what is right?
Being a good communicator is more than just managing a satisfactory vocabulary. Communication is a hard strategic skill that is the basis for all successful relationships. This is a skill that takes enormous focus, practice and guidance. To be a successful communicator, you have to be able to look beyond the actual words that are being spoken and find the intent of the message your partner is trying to tell you. (“I know he said “ABC” but what was he really trying to tell you?”) Being able to decipher the real message is a challenging and time consuming process. However, it is easier and faster to try to get to the real message than to try to recover from a bad argument!
This can be done by speaking from the “I” perspective and being curious about your partner. Only speaking from your own experience, understanding, and perspective brings its own unique hardships because you must forgo any judgments about your partner. Let’s face it…once you say to your partner “You are so close minded!” what reactions can your partner have? “AM NOT!” or “So are you!” it instantly puts your partner on the defensive. How does anyone win after that?
To engage your partner, use the greatest relationship gift - curiosity. Be curious about your partner. Ask questions. (Don’t interrogate or interview!) Wonder about his or her experience and thoughts. Using curiosity is a difficult skill to master because it requires you to put your partner at ease so he or she can feel safe opening up and talking about what real issues may be lurking underneath.