They can crush a heart, or heal it.
They can shame a soul, or liberate it.
They can shatter dreams, or energize them.
They can obstruct connection, or invite it.
They can create defenses, or melt them.
We have to use words wisely.
The primary purpose of communication is to let other people know who you are, and how you can best connect with each other. Using communication skills, you can offer love, advice, support, and everything you wish to express. Others can learn how to best connect with you. Communication is a wonderful vehicle from which mutual respect can evolve.
Productive communication requires several skills. Some of these skills are learned in families and social groups. However, we also may learn destructive communication patterns which can wreak havoc on relationships. It is important to be aware of which patterns are destructive versus which are productive to relationships.
On this page, you will find information about the following skills:
- "I" Messages
- Awareness of Destructive Communication Patterns
- Validation and Listening
The pages "Communication Basics", "Communication Skills Part 2", "3", and "4" provide information about additional communication skills. To a degree, Communication Skills Parts 2, 3, and 4 build on the previous "Part".
"I messages" are the opposite of "you messages". "I messages" help you to be heard, understood, and responded to. "I messages" need to be clear. An "I message" is a statement about what is happening for you, what you think, how you feel, what you want, and so on. By making an "I message", you are taking responsibility for letting another know your wishes, wants, experiences, and expectations.
"You messages" are usually statements about the person being spoken to. "You messages" are often judgments, evaluations, or accusations. "You messages" usually trigger defensiveness and get in the way of healthy communication. They provoke the other person to argue with you before listening to you. When in a disagreement, DO NOT use "you messages".
Examples of "You Messages", changed to "I messages":
- "You never make enough time to talk." --- "I need some time to talk about ..."
- "You should care more about ....." --- "I'm concerned about... Do you care about this too? I feel alone in this."
- "You aren't cooperating" --- "I feel alone. Can we talk about cooperating more?"
- "You don't make me a priority" --- "I feel hurt; I don't feel like I am a priority."
- "You are selfish to travel so much." --- "I am afraid I am loosing you when you are gone so much."
"Everybody Messages" also get in the way of healthy communication. They are usually vague generalizations. Using them is an avoidance of being open and direct.
- Examples: "Everybody feels that..." "Anybody knows it is not good to..." "It is impossible for anybody to..."
Reasons people are tempted to use "you messages":
- "I messages" feel too vulnerable
- fear one's message will be ignored
- expectation the other person knows the information, without telling them
- expecting to be taken care of, and of having someone else meet needs that are not their responsibility
- believing expression of one's request is selfish
- believing unclear expression of a request will avoid disappointment or criticism
Awareness of Destructive Communication Patterns
While building productive communication skills, it is important to avoid destructive communication traps. The following communication patterns will cause harm and destruction. Be aware of them and avoid them.
- blaming the other person for problems. Accusations can produce defensiveness, argument, and insincere apologies
- name calling; putting the other person down; attacking the other person rather than attacking the problem
- aggression or physical abuse
- not treating the other person as an equal
- not staying focused on the issue you are discussing
- making threats
- withdrawing from the discussion because you are angry (on the other hand, it is healthy communication to say you are taking a 'time-out' if you feel too emotional to be productive)
- being indirect; not saying what you mean and talking around it
- being disrespectful, rude, thoughtless, or attacking
- arguing with the other person's feelings; invalidating the other's feelings; saying "You shouldn't feel that way" (a "You message")
- 'mind reading'- telling the other person what they are thinking or feeling; telling them why they behave as they do; not listening to their thoughts, feelings, and understanding of his/herself
- talking too loudly or making the message complicated
- one-upping the other person
- the 'Win-Lose Trap': This is when someone is trying to 'win' or prove the other person 'wrong', rather than communicating thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself, "Do I want to share my thoughts and feelings, and to learn theirs? Or do I want to prove my position is right, no matter the cost to the relationship? What is my intention? Do I want us to understand each other? The 'Win-Lose Trap' promotes distance and conflict; healthy communication promotes understanding and closeness.
Asserting yourself with others helps them learn more about who you are. It draws love and respect to you. At the same time, it protects you from being drawn into others passive and/or aggressive attachments to you. As you develop your unique style of asserting yourself in the world, your awareness, love, and respect for yourself deepen. The more you know yourself, the more assertive you will become, creating a wonderful feedback loop. At first, being assertive may feel uncomfortable and strange. But soon, the benefits will bring peace and strength to your self expression.
Assertiveness is a healthy way of relating. It is an open and honest way of expressing yourself. Unlike aggression (which uses force and opposition) and passivity (which tends to create misunderstanding and confusion), assertiveness allows for cooperation, clarity, and the freedom to be yourself. When being assertive, you expose yourself to a degree that is in your best interest. This expression may be verbal or non-verbal.
Requirements of Assertiveness:
- be aware of your intentions, feelings, and ideas
- directly express your intentions, feelings, and ideas
- when making decisions, consider the needs of both self and others
- look directly at the other person(s)
- be responsible for your choices
- stay calm
- give yourself permission to make mistakes
- let go of self-judgment / see yourself with eyes of love
- be responsible (deal directly) with the outcomes of your mistakes/errors. This leads to your increased knowledge, growth, and wisdom.
- be responsible for your feelings, beliefs, and opinions
- be responsible for your timing and expression
- be honest when you do not want to give and/or receive help
- be honest about your intentions
- be honest with others when you are upset with them
- stand-up for yourself and your rights
- respect the rights of others
- encourage yourself and others
Benefits of Assertiveness:
- awareness to meet needs
- increased hope for the ability to meet your goals
- the freedom to decide when to explain or justify your behavior, and when not to
- the freedom to change your mind, including times when others may want to hold you to a position
- the ability to set your boundaries
- the ability to say 'No' out of love
- not feeling guilty or responsible for the other person's reaction
- self trust and respect - often leading to the trust and respect of others
- self confidence
- the freedom to admit you do not know something
- a sense of internal peace
Aggression is NOT Assertiveness! Aggression is a way of communicating that acts against others, often attempting to accomplish goals by hurting others.
Characteristics of aggression:
- demanding others cooperate with your goals
- dominating and discouraging others
- telling others what to do, without their permission
- controlling situations, and controlling other people
- expressing needs, feelings, and ideas, without being open to the different needs, feelings, and ideas of others
- using force
- being judgmental
- being oppositional
- justifying your unfair treatment of others
- refusal to compromise
Outcomes of aggression:
- humiliating others
- feeling misunderstood, frustrated, bitter, and angry
- feeling alone and guilty
- isolation, as others create distance from you to protect themselves
- feeling rejected
Passivity is NOT Assertiveness! Passivity is communicating in a way that does not take care of oneself.
Characteristics of passive communication:
- dishonest expression of your thoughts and feelings
- avoiding responsibility for self care (Even when you are caring for others, it is your primary responsibility to care for yourself. If you do not, others may feel pressured to care for you, clouding their freedom to say 'No' to you.)
- ignoring your rights, and allowing others to ignore them
- being indirect
- blaming others for decisions in your life
- allowing others to make decisions for you
Outcomes of passivity:
- feeling disappointed
- feeling anxious, fearful, tired, and/or depressed
- feeling used and/or resentful
- having a negative attitude about yourself
- feeling helpless and misunderstood
- physical symptoms
Assert yourself! Show the world who you truly are!! You will be glad, and the world will benefit!!!
Validation and Listening
What does it mean to validate someone's communication with you?
- to validate is to give value to the other person's message
- what they say is valuable because it is their point of view
- it is valuable because it teaches you about them
your agreement with their message is only one way to validate
- you can disagree with the other's point of view and still validate
- you give their message attention
- you show respect for their communication with you
- you acknowledge their message is what they feel and/or think
- you listen, without arguing (later, you may state your different point of view)
Research has shown the amount of validation does not predict relationship health.... BUT, the amount of INVALIDATION is a factor in predicting relationship Problems.
Active Listening helps to provide validation of the other person's message. Active listening involves the following:
- get ready to listen by looking at the other person
- watch and listen to the person
- listen for ideas AND feelings
- pay attention to the message
- take the other person's viewpoint into consideration (even if you disagree)
- do not interrupt
- do not finish the other person's sentences
An example of Active Listening creating validation:
- Speaker- "I wish you spent time with me more often. I am hurt that our evenings tend to be time apart."
- Listener- "You feel hurt when I don't spend more time with you in the evening? I guess I knew that. However, I didn't give it enough thought and attention before." (Do NOT say, "You shouldn't feel hurt. Don't take it personally.")
Reflective Listening is a specific form of Active Listening.
- is a skill to promote further validation in communication.
- involves reiterating what is heard, to check whether the sender's message is accurately understood.
- is like using a mirror, informing both parties about whether the listener heard the message correctly.
- helps to clarify what the speaker is saying.
- lets the speaker know the listener values (validation) understanding the message.
Here is how Reflective Listening works:
- 1 - the speaker gives a message
2 - the receiver / listener paraphrases (saying it in your own words) the message back to the speaker
- "What I hear you saying is..."
- "Do you mean...?"
- "Let me see if what I heard is what you are saying..."
- the speaker may also ask for clarification: "What do you hear me saying?"
- 3 - the receiver / listener asks if this is the intended message (you are checking to find out if what you heard is what the speaker meant)
- 4 - if the paraphrase isn't what the speaker meant, the speaker repeats the message until it is heard clearly
This may take several back and forths. Words do not always relay a message as clearly as it is in our thoughts. There is a message sent by the speaker, and a message received by the listener. These messages are not always the same. Reflective listening allows the listener to feed back the message heard, to get the speaker to clarify whether the message was heard correctly and in full. This immediate feedback and clarification avoids misunderstandings based on natural assumptions the listeners make about messages heard.
Reflective Listening is an important skill when there is a conflict, a problem to solve, and/or indirect communication. Take care not to overuse this skill, as it can lose effectiveness with overuse. However, be sure to use it any time you assume you know what someone is meaning to say.
Barriers to validation and listening include: lack of trust, lack of time, not valuing the other person's feelings or thoughts, drugs or alcohol, and negative self image.
Create healthy new patterns. Ask your loved one what you can do to let them know you are listening and wanting to understand his/her message to you. Discuss what it is like for him/her when thinking you are not listening. Discuss what he/she does when not feeling listened to or understood. This information can be helpful to both of you for identifying future discussions in which you need to listen more. Create the relationship you desire.
Use love to embrace the other person's desire to communicate with you. Remember, communication is for the purpose of building healthy relationships; it is not for the purpose of controlling another. As the listener, it is SO important to use this time to LEARN the message of the speaker. If necessary, pretend you are a stranger, trying to understand what this person is expressing. This is NOT the time to judge or correct the message, or to interject your own thoughts and/or position. NOW is the time to assert your peace into the relationship.