I never learned how to communicate and I bet the same is true for most people. I was taught my ABC’s, to tie my shoes and to speak words. I learned to cook and balance a checkbook. We go to classes for at least 13 years and not one of them teaches you how to communicate effectively. In fact, no one even mentions that effective communication would be the most critical skill you need in navigating relationships.
Recently I started working with a therapist specifically to learn this skill. I would like to share some of what I’ve learned.
When you have feelings of any kind, communicate with yourself by asking three questions: “What am I feeling? What do I want? What do I fear?” The answer to these questions gives you clarity on what your feelings are trying to tell you. Now the conversation you have with yourself is not controlled by the emotion.
Once you’ve mastered communicating with yourself, use the three questions when communicating with another person. It doesn’t have to be used on only heavy topics. I used the three questions on my daughter after telling her that report cards came out. It gave me great insight into what she is going through this time of year. I tried it on my boyfriend and I found that we had a much more interesting conversation about a trivial “How was your day?” question. I also found that I trusted each of them a little more.
This leads to the other valuable thing I learned – the trust triangle. Everyone communicates at varying levels of intimacy depending on where you are in the relationship. We communicate with many people on the most basic level by sharing facts. We share things like what we do for a living or if we have pets. It doesn’t take much trust to share information like that.
As relationships become more intimate, we start sharing our opinions. If our partner is a respectful listener, we graduate to sharing our values and then our feelings. We move up and down the levels of intimacy based on how we are received. If we feel judged, disrespected or unheard, we move back to sharing safer, less intimate thoughts.
This triangle illustrated to me why I often hesitate to share values and feelings with certain people. It also reminded me of times that I didn’t listen with respect and what impact that had on the relationship. Understanding how we tend to communicate in relationships and what questions to ask has made a huge impact in my existing relationships. I hope it helps yours as well.