Think of a time you were in a conversation with your partner and you thought: How can she say that? How can he mean what he is saying? The questions became a statement about your self-worth, your value in the relationship, or a competition of some sort and diverted from its original path. Then what happens next? The person receiving the message reacts with feelings to what they hear creating a spiral in the conversation possibility leading to either a loud disagreement or silence. What makes this happen?
Leaping to conclusions
Over time in relationships and with someone we are familiar and intimate with we take shortcuts in communication or we leap to conclusions. We think we “know” what the other person is thinking, feeling, meaning and doing when in fact we might be totally off base. Often our listening skills are compromised as we are spending more time thinking of a response and “reacting” to the topic that is being communicated. An example of this can be a question as simple as What would you like to eat tonight for dinner? The conversation quickly goes downhill with either dialogue or return questions such as: Why do I always have to decide? Why can’t you ever just cook or come up with something? I have too much to do and have been busy all day and now you want me to decide what we are going to eat tonight too? You never cook or decide, you could have just picked something up! We never have anything in this house why don’t you go to the grocery store?
The responses, feelings, and thoughts are much bigger than the question presented. How do we get around this and avoid these landmines in the future?
Steps to avoid problems in communication
The first step is to make it a priority to pay attention to your partner when they are speaking to you. Really listen when you are speaking with each other. That means putting down your phone, turning down the TV, and having the courtesy to ask “do you have a minute for me to ask you a question or so we can talk and come up with a solution to this together”. Next, listening means being patient and checking in with the other person. A response to the dinner question might be: I see it is dinner time! Let’s come up with a plan. We can….
How to create a proactive communication pattern for the future might include rules for communication, willingness to check out what you hear by saying: What I hear you are saying to me is this; then we give the other person a chance to respond and affirm the communication or rephrase it. No, what I meant was this.
The message we send as the person communicating is only as good as it is received, and it is our job to make sure we are clear and de-escalate any land minds before we get there.