How to Communicate Effectively

The way we communicate with each other can either make or break a relationship. Good intentions can quickly turn into arguments when we use inappropriate words or communication styles. Certain trigger phrases can cause the recipient to shut down. Guidelines are needed when we discuss unresolved, volatile topics.

Words or phrases that quickly halt conversations are called roadblocks. There are three different types of roadblocks. The first minimizes difficulty by offering solutions. While these solutions are well-meaning, they’re not received in the same manner. Examples include:

  • Ordering: you have to…
  • Preaching: you should…
  • Lecturing: the fact is…

The next group of roadblocks focus on pointing out faults in an effort to help. These include:

  • Judging: you are a big procrastinator…
  • Criticizing: you’re being lazy…
  • Analyzing: you’re just trying to…

The third group attempts to make one feel better. These include phrases like:

  • Praising: you’re smart…
  • Excusing: it’s not so bad…
  • Sympathizing: I have felt…

These are typically misconstrued as patronizing statements, rather than well-intentioned phrases.

The most commonly use roadblocks are prying and questioning phrases. These are your why, what, how and when questions. “Why did you wait so long to ask for help?”

Conflict management skills may be helpful with these kinds of conversations. To be productive, we must allow one person to talk while the other listens. This gives the first person the chance to completely express the conflict while the second person demonstrates respect through attentive listening.
After establishing the roles, you must determine the real issue. Oftentimes, the first topic is not the real issue. Next, distinguish between positions and interest. Try not to focus on what you think the other person is trying to accomplish. Make sure you’re respectful by talking softly and not hitting below the belt.

Both verbal and nonverbal communication are important factors for a positive outcome. Conflict resolution focuses on both the present and the future. You must be able to accept that conflict resolution doesn’t always work. Establish a system to stop the conversation should things escalate or become unproductive.

Listening is by far the most important communication skill to have. Good listening requires that you stay engaged and are truly hearing the other person’s feelings. It shows that you care about your partner’s thoughts and feelings. Listening, without becoming defensive, encourages open and honest communication. Good listening is paying attention to voice changes, expressions and gestures and maintaining eye contact.

Not only will improving your communication skills enrich your relationship, it will make life more rewarding overall as well.

Exercises for Managing Stress

Stress reduction is the most effective way to maintain a healthy mind and body. Sources of stress include finances, relationships and our negative and/or fearful thoughts. It is easier to keep stress at appropriate levels when you incorporate stress reduction techniques into your life because each new stressor compounds your stress level. This build up can come bubbling up and explode if you don’t take the time to practice relaxation techniques. Some of these techniques are: deep breathing and muscle relaxation which calm our bodies’ physiological responses. Techniques like [visualization and meditation] thought stopping will help control these anxiety-provoking thoughts, as well as developing a life plan with goal setting and time management.

Deep breathing exercises decrease feelings of stress and anxiety by increasing the oxygen supply in the brain. Deep breathing can be practiced almost anywhere, anytime, and can be combined with other techniques, such as meditation.

DEEP BREATHING:  for best results, lie down on a comfortable but firm surface. Make sure your spine is straight, and breathe deeply from your abdomen. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose and you will see your abdomen will rise as you inhale and fall when you exhale. Your chest should move only slightly. When you are done with this exercise, scan your body for tension. If any tension remains, focus on relaxing that particular area. Increase the duration from 5 minutes to 12-15 minutes as you become more comfortable.

DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION:  this is a techniques that relaxes your muscles and decreases blood pressure and respiration rates. The body responds to stress with muscle tension and deep muscle relaxation teaches the body to respond with much less much muscle tension. Get into a comfortable position and take a few deep breaths. Relax  your body and notice the difference between tense muscles and relaxed ones. Start by tightening your right fist and hold it tight for 7 seconds; then loosen it and notice the difference in how this feels. Repeat with your left hand. Next, tighten and loosen the muscles in your face in the same manner, progressing through your torso and legs, ending with your feet. Like most relaxation techniques, you will become better at this each time you do it.

Thought stopping will prevent the self-talk that leads to unwanted feelings. These thoughts can be repetitive, unproductive and anxiety provoking. The first step is to identify those thought that are counter productive.

Begin the exercise by focusing on a situation that causes these thoughts. Allow these thought to enter your mind for three minutes. Use an egg timer or an alarm to let you know when the three minutes are up. Shout “stop” and empty your mind of all but positive thoughts. If the thoughts return in 30 seconds shout “stop!” again.  Each time you do this exercise try shouting a little softer until you are whispering or saying it in your mind.  This exercise works because it is an assertive way to provide a mild punishment and distract the mind. Finally, find a positive phrase to substitute in the stress inducing situation. Come up with several alternative statements.

There are many stress reduction and relaxation exercises. More can be found on YouTube, including tips on visualization and using music to aid in relaxation. It is up to you to try several ones and choose a few to use on a daily basis.

How to Remain Calm During an Argument

Firstly, identify triggers in the relationship. Triggers can include: how to raise children, in-laws, differences in spirituality, or more commonly, money matters. If you know something is a trigger in your relationship (i.e., you have argued over this before), pick your timing to discuss it carefully. Generally speaking, at night when you’re both tired, is not a good time, nor is it good timing to be having a disagreement and then bring up a triggering subject. Also, when alcohol or other drugs are flowing, this bodes badly for venturing into a trigger area. Sometimes, discussing a trigger issue is more successful out in public — say, over coffee or a meal. The most important thing to remember is that when emotions are high, discussion success is low!

Secondly, should voices become raised and emotions begin to rise, the best way to avoid angry outbursts and possible physical reactions is to table the discussion for a later time. Sometimes a partner needs to leave the area, whether it be home, a car, or a public place. This, of course, must be done respectfully, calmly, and safely. Jumping up and leaving your partner, without a word, is not okay as they will likely feel disrespected, abandoned, and frustrated. It is best to let your partner know you are becoming upset, and although this discussion is very important to you, it is best you take a break and come back to it later. Let your partner know when you will discuss it again so they don’t feel you are just avoiding the topic.

If it is impossible for you to find some space — say you are on a long car trip and can’t stop — try some deep breathing exercises or visualization (if you aren’t the driver). Take your mind to somewhere you love (the beach, on a sailboat, a field of flowers, the mountains) and imagine the sounds, smells and touch of the breeze, sand, lapping waves. It is hard to be angry when you are in your calm place. Try to think of a time when you and your partner were very happy — when you first met or when your first child was born or a recent birthday party. It is important to get your mind off the trigger for awhile until calmer heads prevail and emotions have died down. Avoid alcohol, drugs, and caffeine while you are ramped up, and if possible, suggest a rest stop or scenic pull off so you can hike around to clear your head(s).

Some find music soothing or reading a good book, or walking/petting your dog/cat good ways to calm down. Talking to a good friend, exercising, watching a comedy, or doing something for another person are other ways to get yourself back to emotional balance. It is not recommended that you jump right back into the discussion, however, when you are calm. Some time and distance from the trigger subject is best and can be decided upon ahead of time or possibly, agreed upon by both partners after the discussion headed south.