21 Jul Please Listen To Me!
A lot of what people want to talk about when they come to therapy are relationship issues. This includes all sorts of relationships including marital, parental, work, friend, extended family and so forth. And one of the major relationship topics they want to discuss is the topic of communication. I often hear things like “We just don’t communicate anymore” or “Our communication has gotten so bad that we have almost given up trying to talk” or “You can’t say a word to him/her without getting your head bitten off.” I often say that learning to communicate better may not solve problems but it might give the means of making at least a little headway against problems.
There are those who don’t communicate for a reason. They steer away from certain topics because they each know deep inside where things would head if they were really honest and they just don’t want to go there. But for today these are not the people I want to address. The people I want to get through to are those who really want/need to learn to communicate better with loved ones but just get derailed by some old patterns. This is a big topic and may need a couple of installments but here is installment number one.
The first issue that I see in miscommunication is more with the receiver of the message than the sender. In almost all our relationships we assume we know what the others are saying and in many cases start forming our (patterned) replies even before they finish. This is so because we are right a fairly high percentage of the time. The trouble occurs, though, when we are wrong – when what we perceive they are saying/meaning and what they are actually saying/meaning is different. Further this usually occurs in conversations that are emotionally charged. So when you say “X” and I, for whatever reason, hear “XY” and I respond to what I hear, then we have lived the actual definition of miscommunication. That is, the message received and responded to was not the same as the message sent.
So here is lesson one of Raleigh’s Guide to Better Communication with Those That Matter (catchy title!). Simply put, when they matter, be sure and the only way to be sure is double check. When a person who is important to you says something especially in an emotionally charged moment, reflect back to them what you heard them say and perhaps even more importantly what you perceive their feelings are on the subject. If they say you are on target then respond. But if they say you are not, listen a little more carefully or ask them to explain more until WHAT YOU ARE HEARING IS WHAT THEY ARE SAYING. They really need you to take the time and put the effort into making sure you hear and understand. This does not guarantee an easy or fun talk but at the very least you will be responding to what your loved one was actually saying. It gives you a chance to actually communicate.