Action 15

How To: Improve My Communication (Listening and Speaking) Skills

In terms of Listening Skills I can:

A—Attend with genuine interest to what the other person is saying. Ask open-ended questions to better understand my partner’s point of view.

For example, ask “What” and “How” questions of my partner. (“What did you mean when you said X?”; “How did you come to the decision to do Y? Walk me through the steps.”) be curious, not furious with any actions and comments your spouse makes.

B—Be responsive to what is said.

C—Care about the other person and accept his/her perspective. Try to figure out what the person might be thinking and feeling.

D—Do not interrupt my partner and do not finish my partner’s sentences, but instead wait until he/she is finished. Then say or do something to show that I understand the person’s perspective.

E—Encourage the person to say more and to feel safe, speaking to me as a confidant. Ask the other person if what I did or said helped and made the person feel understood. Watch for reactions to my behavior and what I said and how I said it and respond appropriately to the person’s reactions. If what I said or did, or did not say or did not do had a negative impact, apologize and reword what I was trying to say. Think about what would be the best way to convey what I want or feel. What are the best words and tone of voice to use? Ask myself, if someone said or did the same thing to me, how I would feel?

In addition, I can learn to:

Actively listen—by putting my best ear forward. Listen to not only what is being said, but how it is being said. Listen for the meaning behind the words and check it out. Ask myself, “What am I missing?”

Parrot back—simply repeat back verbatim or restate what my partner has said and raise any questions of clarification.

Paraphrase—rephrase in my own words the content of the communication. Tell my partner what I got out what he/she said.

Reflect—figure out the emotion behind the speaker’s message and check it out. Accept and show greater emotional understanding of one another.

Show Empathy—convey to the speaker that his/her perspective is understandable. Say or do something that my loved one needs from me right now (a kind word, a hug). Appreciate that my partner’s response to me may be influenced by the history, back-story or “baggage” that he/she brings to the relationship. Don’t forget to maintain perspective and consider the big picture. Empathy says to my partner that he/she is being heard and valued.

In terms of Speaker’s Skills, I can learn new ways of talking.

Be clear and brief—in what I say. Refer to specific behaviors.

Be positive—Use non-accusatory, understanding statements. Use “I” statements, instead of “you” attacking statements. For example, I can say:

“I feel ___ when you do ___ in situations such as ___ because ___.”

“I feel (embarrassed, uncomfortable, unsafe) when you (criticize me, use your loud voice and become angry) in (front of company, when we are driving) because (I cannot predict how you will respond; the argument might escalate.)”

“I feel (appreciated, understood, loved) when you give me a (hug, say kind things, share your feelings) when (we are alone, with my parents) because I feel (valued, understood.”)

People listen more effectively and respond in a reciprocal manner when they receive such positive statements. In contrast, when I use “You” statements such as:

“You only . . . “

“I feel that you . . . , or use blaming or blackmailing statements such as: “If you don’t X, I will Y.”\

“You (always, never) statements” which are rarely accurate and contribute to communication breakdowns.

“You” statements are perceived as accusatory and threatening and contribute to interpersonal distress.

Edit—what I say. I do not have to say every thought I have. Each thought is not a commandment to speak or act.

Exert behavioral control—I can say what I think and feel without putting others down or putting them at risk for physical or emotional harm. Body language counts. It is not only what I say, but how I say it.

Perspective take—check out if my message has been heard as intended.

Share—I can ask my spouse/partner for what I need/want in a supportive way and I can ask my spouse/partner what he/she needs/wants in a supportive way.

Problem-solve with my partner -Together we can set collaborative goals, make plans, do them and check to see how they work—goal, plan, do, check.

Action 16