Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Talking communication
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
“Honey, we need to talk.” Yikes! Those are some of the most dreaded words in the English language. That statement might just be as ominous as, “Do these pants make me look fat?” I’m not trying to be sexist here, but both of those statements can make men want to run for the hills — and for good reason. Communication is a worn-out, overly discussed, sometimes boring topic that can make the most tolerant among us roll our eyes. Nevertheless, let’s dive in and talk about communication.
What makes for great communication?
- Be a good listener. The most important part of communicating is listening. When one person is a good listener, the other will be a good communicator. Great listening is about the whole body, by the way. We hear with our ears, but we LISTEN with our whole bodies. Lean in, give great eye contact, make appropriate facial expressions that prove you are tuned in, nod occasionally to show you are following every word, and offer verbal probes. Check in with yourself right now. You are probably somewhat aware of sounds around you that you are hearing — an air conditioner blowing air, a child laughing outside, a car going by, a co-worker typing a document on the computer. Yet, when we listen, it’s intentional; others will know it and will respond in kind.
- Timing and setting are EVERYTHING. When you have an important message you need to impart, or when you want feedback on a significant issue you are facing, and if you merely want to share the events of the day, the best way to be heard is to choose the best time and best setting. For example, I know that when my husband is watching a football game, and it is fourth and one, the ball is getting ready to be snapped, the score is tied and time is running out on the clock, this is not the time to say, “Guess what I saw on the way home from the mall today.” If in doubt, ask:“I have something really exciting to tell you. Is this a good time?”
- Provide the safety for honest communication. To have a home where good communication is foundational, it is important to be intent on creating “safety of expression.” Feelings are always valid (saying, “I think it’s dumb that you are sad about that” is not OK); acceptance, interest and empathy are always the norm for honest communication.
Here are a few other nuggets!
- Remember, good communication is time well-spent. Communication is the foundation for conflict resolution, intimacy, a common vision and goals for the future.
- Remember, to foster good communication, use “I” words. Often, the word “you” can evoke defensiveness, shut down or a need to “even the score.” For example, “I need help with the yard work” is much better than “You never help me with the yard work.”
- Remember, before offering feedback or a “fix” to a dilemma just shared, ask first. “Do you want me to just listen, or do you want me to give my opinion?”
- Remember, never go to bed angry. If your communication (with your spouse, for example) becomes angrily passionate and heated, agree to talk further in the morning, but without a grudge. You may go to bed without complete resolution of the issue, but NEVER go to bed with anger.
COMMUNICATION IS THE KEY, which unlocks many doors. It allows for a growth in togetherness, allows for safety in sharing emotions, and obviously allows for the sharing of information so that experiences are shared among friends and families. Purpose and strive to be a great listener, then you will also be considered a great communicator.