The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines communication as, “the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviours to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else.
From the above definition it certainly seems like there are a myriad of avenues to get one’s point across when conveying a thought. Why then, does it seem that this “process”, or lack thereof can lead to numerous issues and challenges in relationships? In fact, it is not uncommon to hear that a lack of communication is identified as a very common contributing factor to the dissolution of a marriage.
Some of the dilemma may be explained with communication styles. As individuals we all develop our own unique flavor, if you will, in respect to how we prefer to give and receive information. Challenges arise when we are communicating with someone else who has a significantly different communication style from our own. Being aware of these styles can enable us to tailor or individualize how we communicate to different audiences.
Mark Murphy, wrote the article, “Which of these 4 Communication Styles are You?” for Forbes magazine (www.forbes.com). In the article Murphy outlines four communication styles:
1. Analytical – individuals could be described as, “just the facts ma’am” type of folks. There is no need to go to great lengths with minute details and flowery language. Data, statistics and facts are the analytical communicator requires.
2. Intuitive – this communication style relishes the overview. They want the forest, not individual trees. Details are considered cumbersome.
3. Functional – people in this category, crave details, clarity, planning, and end points. It is paramount for the functional communicator, that nothing is overlooked and all aspects are accounted for.
4. Personal – this approach finds great value in building a connection with their communication. A connection is built as these communicators strive to not only determine how one is thinking, but also how they are feeling.
While some may be skeptical of these sorts of labels, and describe themselves as being a combination of each communication style, upon closer inspection, one may discover they tend to lean more toward one approach than another. This also gives some insight into how you communicate versus your how your partner relays information. This in turn, allows one to look at their partner’s communication style through a different lens. For example, you are frustrated with your partner because from your perspective they seem to be dismissive when you are having a conversation. In actuality, it may be that your partner is an intuitive communicator, waiting for you, who may be a personal communicator, to get through your lengthy conversation so they can pull out the abbreviated version they are looking for.
Some may believe that having dramatically different communication styles can be detrimental to a relationship. In some cases it can, particularly in situations where there is a lack of understanding and an unwillingness to adjust and accommodate these communication differences.
Years ago, just before my husband and I were getting married, I asked him to do a personality quiz with me. (Yes, there was an eye roll and an audible sigh. Not his ideal way to spend an evening, however that’s what happens when you’re going to marry a social worker.). What came out of this evening was developing insight into how each of us ticks. Were the results dead on for both of us, not in every area, but pretty close, and that in turn spurred us into a conversation about our individual preferences with communication, conflict resolution, etc.
That being said, maintaining effective communication requires deliberate effort in any marriage/relationship, and fine-tuning communication skills is an ongoing process.
Some ways to keep your communication skills in tip top shape include;
1. Don’t hear, listen instead
Listening to respond and/or defend your position is essentially hearing. Taking the time to focus on your partner, while possessing a genuine interest in understanding where they are coming from, is true listening.
2. Put away distractions
There is something to be said for eye contact and someone leaning in attentively while you are discussing a topic that you feel is important. It sends a clear message they are present and available. Having a conversation with someone who is distracted by a cell phone, people walking by, and/or spinach stuck in their teeth, sends a very different message in how they are prioritizing the conversation/ information you are attempting to relay.
3. Ask questions
If the real estate adage is “location, location, location” then the communication adage should be, “clarify, clarify, clarify”. It is always good to check in with your partner to make sure you are understanding what is being said and you are both on the same page.
I like to think of myself as quite a good communicator, my husband isn’t half bad either. However, we still have misunderstandings from time to time and one of us ends of saying, “oh, I thought you meant this,” We all have different perspectives that we draw from, so checking in is a great way to ensure that you’re both moving in the same direction.
4. Watch your body language
While there is some debate on how much of our language is verbal versus nonverbal, there is no doubt that in intimate relationships with our partners we are highly aware and in tune with subtle cues our partner displays.
5. Everything but the kitchen sink
If you are communicating about a difficult subject that is emotionally charged, try to keep your points brief and current. Bringing in things that happened years ago, may leave your partner feeling like you are throwing everything at them – everything but the kitchen sink. This usually leads to defensiveness and a breakdown in communication.
6. Ask for feedback from others
If you and your spouse are at odds about, say, how to divide chores between your children, information gathering from family and friends in regards to how they tackle this issue, can give you a variety of perspectives and approaches that can be helpful when working this dilemma out with your partner.
Since communication, both verbal and nonverbal are a significant part of our everyday life, one would think we are all experts at getting our points across. The reality, we are not. Even the most effective communicators need to take time to check in to make sure their message is being received and adjust their approach depending on their audience. Being cognizant of this will go a long way in developing better communicators.