Habits for Helpful Conversations
Written by: Ashlee Wong, MA
The majority of complaints in any relationship commonly boils down to a failure in communication. Often, this leads to frustration as both sides typically feel the failure lies solely on the other person’s inability to articulate their ideas clearly. There is a sense of responsibility for the person speaking to convey their ideas as clearly as possible. After all, we cannot have much of a productive conversation if we do not understand what the conversation is even about. However, I find there is also responsibility in being a strong listener as well. In my quest to help my clients communicate better, I have observed several initial suggestions to be used as we attempt to understand each other better.
Firstly, I think the setting of a discussion is just as important as the content itself. If a teenager is attempting to extend their curfew for example, it would be most advantageous for them to have a discussion with their guardians when all parties are relatively stress-free. I find it is better to be patient, than to force a conversation while guardians are stressed which then reduces or eliminates any chance of actual negotiation. Similarly, I have found discussions to be more successful when conversation takes place at a neutral location so that neither party is distracted or feels threatened by outside issues.
Secondly, the language we use to ask questions or gain clarification can determine the success of a conversation as well. I recommend reducing the number of times “Why?” questions are used in conversations. I have seen that no matter how appropriate it might be to the situation, asking why someone did something typically increases the amount of defensiveness they feel. Instead, I recommend rewording questions so that we use any of the other questions prompts in place of why. Even though it isn’t a question, I also include prompts like, “Tell me what happened” or “Explain what you were thinking” to keep why questions at a minimum.
Thirdly, I encourage people to use “I statements” when describing the issue at hand. Similar to why questions, beginning statements with you usually only serves to increase defensiveness. This is true even if the defensiveness is only temporary and we are describing positive observations. Examples of “I statements” include stating, “I feel disappointed when I notice the toilet seat is still up,” instead of stating “You never remember to put the toilet seat down.” Using “I statements” is also important when making sure we understand the message of what the other person is saying. I often pause conversations to make statements such as, “If I understand correctly, I hear that the core issue of our conversation is feeling disappointed.” Making sure I am on the same page as the person with whom I am speaking, is another way I make sure I am listening well. It also allows for an opportunity to correct any miscommunication if I did not understand any piece of the conversation correctly.
Written by: ASHLEE WONG, MA, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist 103135. Supervised by Dr. Joselyn Josephine Ayala-Encalada Psy.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 96987