Every day sees millions of emails, texts, voice messages, phone calls, in-person and virtual meetings crisscrossing and happening across the globe. Human beings spend a lot of time communicating, whether verbally, through sign language, or other non-verbal means.
In a relationship like a marriage, many words are exchanged between the couple – some happy, others angry, others functional, and still others intended to convey their deepest affections and desires.
After a while, each couple gets into the groove of how they communicate with one another. It’s easy for us to think we communicate well, and most of us tend to think we are good communicators. However, most of us are not good listeners, and we often struggle to articulate our needs.
Becoming a better communicator is about more than simply talking and getting your point across; it’s about being effective at letting your needs be known in a mature, non-aggressive way, and it is also about listening well, making sure that the other person leaves the conversation feeling heard, too.
It should be obvious that communication between a couple is vital for the relationship to continue to function properly. If communication is poor within a relationship, then it is likely that the needs of one or both partners are not being heard, and that they are also going unmet or unfulfilled.
This presents a challenge to any relationship because if communication is poor between a couple, then it is likely that there is going to be frustration in the relationship, and when that occurs, that opens their relationship to all sorts of difficulties.
Tips for Becoming a Better Communicator
Communication can always be improved in a relationship, and so it is important for a couple to continue working on their relationship and their communication. As communication can always be improved, couples must avail themselves of the resources that are available to help them learn how to communicate better. This article will provide some of those tips to help you to become a better communicator.
One of the ways to become a better communicator and develop your communication as a couple is to create space for it. This may seem simple enough, but with our full schedules, work, recreation, childcare, and more, you must actively create space for listening to one another.
Some couples settle into a routine where they communicate, but it’s mostly for functional matters – who’s picking the kids up from school, who’s taking out the garbage, who is doing grocery shopping this week and where will they spend the holidays.
All this information needs to flow to make a household function, but the individuals in a relationship are more than their functions. They have hopes, dreams, fears, things that excite them and bring them joy. If those things don’t get communicated, you might get a lot done as a couple, but still end up missing each other.
Create the time to talk to one another beyond the tasks that need performing at home. You can set aside an hour or more each week to simply catch up with one another. To help you develop your listening skills, you can train yourself using certain exercises.
In one exercise, one of you will talk while the other listens for about five minutes. The person talking can talk about whatever they want – their day, a struggle they have overcome, sharing a precious childhood memory, or whatever else they can think of sharing.
During that time, the other person will listen attentively and in an empathic way. (Some of the ways we can be better empathic listeners are detailed below). Then switch roles for another five minutes. This simple exercise can help you develop your listening skills, and because they are uninterrupted, it can also help people to learn to express themselves freely.
Effective listening skills
To listen effectively, one needs to apply a variety of skills. If you’re an effective listener, when you conclude a conversation, the other person feels like they have been heard and not simply spoken to, and that they’ve been able to say their piece.
If a person feels heard, they are much more likely to want to listen. If you listen well to others, it helps you become more aware of their true needs, and that can inform your actions and behavior toward them in ways that build up the relationship.
Some key elements of effective and empathetic listening include the following:
No distractions. Have you ever spoken to someone and gotten the feeling that they had other things on their mind? Maybe they’re toying with the remote, they keep glancing at their phone when messages come in, or their eyes are half on you and half on their computer screens.
Either way, you don’t feel like they are really listening to you. You’ve only got part of their attention, at best. To show someone that you’re actively listening to them, get rid of any distractions, and give them your full attention. Put your phone away, turn off the TV, set your computer or newspaper aside, and give them your attention.
Eye contact. Following on from having no distractions when listening to someone, giving them eye contact also shows that you’re giving them your full attention. Of course, in diverse cultures eye contact means different things. If in your context eye contact communicates attentiveness and where your focus is, then give them eye contact.
Probing questions. We often assume we know what people mean when they speak. It happens often enough between a couple that one partner says something, the other agrees, and only later do they realize they weren’t talking about the same thing, or that what was intended was not communicated.
By asking probing and clarifying questions, you get closer to understanding what the other person means and wants. The meanings of words like “clean,” “tidy,” “quickly,” “responsible,” etc., may seem to be obvious, but we often mean different things by them because we may have different frames of reference.
Asking what a person means when they use a certain word or phrase goes a long way toward avoiding conflict and confusion. Probing questions can draw out the other person and give them space to elaborate their meaning.
Reflecting and summarizing. A terrific way to make sure that you’ve heard a person is to reflect back to them or summarize what you’ve heard. By paraphrasing their words, you’re processing what’s been said and putting it in your own words.
“So, you’re saying that…,” “What I’m hearing you say is…,” “If I’m understanding you correctly, what you’re saying is…” are all ways of saying back to the person what they’ve been saying to you. If you miss a crucial point, they will let you know, and that ensures that you hear what is important to them. When someone says back to you what you’ve said, it lets you know they were paying attention.
Non-verbal cues indicating attention. In addition to making sure there are no distractions when you’re listening to someone, your non-verbal cues can also go a long way toward showing that you’re paying attention. Avoid things like rolling your eyes when they are speaking, as that communicates anything from disbelief to outright annoyance with the person.
Leaning toward them shows interest in what they are saying, while tapping your foot may imply impatience, and squinting may show that you’re not sure what they’re saying is true. A gentle nod may communicate that you’re listening and taking in what is being said.
Becoming aware of your body language and what it may communicate to others is important for becoming a better communicator and listener. All of us have bad non-verbal communication habits that we’ve fallen into, and we need to unlearn some of these in order to pick up new habits.
Not cutting in or jumping to conclusions. Lastly, we are often impatient for people to finish their thoughts and get to the point. We may feel we are helping but cutting in and finishing people’s sentences doesn’t allow them to fully express their thoughts. Additionally, we often jump to conclusions about what people are saying, and we judge what they say or how they are saying it. This can prevent us from hearing what they are saying and why.
For a couple, it’s easy to feel justified in making assumptions and trying to fill in their sentences. Haven’t we known them for a while? Who better to finish their sentences and know what they mean than their spouse? The fact is that they are in a better position to finish their own sentences and to know what they mean.
Biblical wisdom reminds us “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20).
This article has strongly emphasized the role of listening in becoming a better communicator because that is precisely what most of us struggle with. If both partners in a relationship are better active listeners, that creates the necessary room for the partner who is talking to express themselves fully and feel heard. Communication between a couple can always improve, and it starts with listening to one another more.
“Leaning on the Wall”, Courtesy of Mark Pecar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Couple on a Bench”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Conversation”, Courtesy of Yolanda Sun, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hand-in-hand”, Courtesy of Hanna Morris, Unsplash.com, CC0 License