Contributed by Mary York, MSW, LCSWA
Have you ever heard the phrase “communication is key?” I’m sure you have! Whether you have heard it in the therapy room, at work, or just in everyday life; effective communication is one of the most important skills we can learn. At the same time, effective communication can also be one the hardest skills to learn. Sounds silly right? How can communication be a skill when it’s something we use every day? Let’s think about it this way. Have you ever found yourself listening to someone talk, but you are really thinking about how to respond to what that person is sharing? Or maybe you find yourself bottling up things you want to say because you are worried you may hurt someone’s feelings. Maybe it’s just easier to avoid conflict all together. If you found yourself saying “yes, I have done that before” then you are not alone! These examples are all extremely common ways we may be participating in ineffective communication. Below, there are skills to help foster more effective communication which is an essential piece of creating and maintaining healthy relationships.
Did you know there are three main types of communication interactions?
Assertive, passive, and aggressive are the three main types of communication interactions. All three of these communication styles can be used at the same time or separately depending upon the situation. For example, you may communicate in a passive aggressive way with one person and assertive with another. Not only do we communicate with our words, but often our body language can be a big form of communication.
Assertive communication is best referred to as a balance between aggressive communication and passive communication. Assertive communication is when you clearly state your own needs and the best way you need them to be met. An assertive communication interaction is usually accompanied by a respectful and confident tone with appropriate eye contact.
Passive communication can be referred to as an avoidant style of communication. This interaction style often does not involve the person communicating their true feelings or needs to another person. A passive communicator may find themselves stuffing down their own thoughts and feelings which can potentially allow room for another person to take advantage of a situation. A passive communication interaction may involve lack of eye contact, frequent fidgeting, and an apologetic or self-deprecating tone. This communication style may lead the person to feel taken advantage of or feeling unheard causing underlying anger.
Aggressive communication is known as expressing your feeling and opinions in a strong manner, allowing less room for others involved in the conversation to express what they may need. Often, an aggressive communication style will put your own needs above the other person, which may be at the detriment of the other person. An aggressive communicator may speak loudly or angrily with an insulting or disrespectful tone. This communicator may have overly direct eye contact and point at the other person. This communication style is largely ineffective and can create a serious barrier in a relationship.
All three of these communication styles can have a time and place where they are appropriate; however, the assertive communication style is often the most effective. Keep in mind that even though verbal communication is important, body language, facial expressions, and eye contact are equally as important nonverbal cues that can really impact a conversation.
Now that you know the types of communication interactions, keep reading for some helpful skills and potential barriers for effective communication.
The “I” statement in communication
A skill that uses an assertive communication strategy while avoiding placing blame on the other party is the use of an “I” statement. The most effective way to use an “I” statement is in this format: I feel _______ about ________. This may feel cheesy or a bit uncomfortable when you first start using the “I” statements in a conversation, but it is an extremely helpful way to communicate what one truly needs in a certain scenario. Using “I” statements are also a great way to reduce coming across as blaming or accusatory to the other person during a potentially hard conversation. One example of this statement as a parent to your child could be, “I feel worried when you don’t tell me you’ll be getting home late.” This statement emphasizes the concern you are feeling and allows the other person to understand your perspective of the situation. To take this statement to the next level, you can further express “I need ____” after the initial “I” statement. Adding “I need ___” will create an actionable way to express what you need in the future from the other person. An example of this may be “I feel worried when you don’t tell me you’ll be getting home late. I need you to text me in the future to let me know that you are running late”
What is LUV-Listening and how is it effective?
LUV-Listening is another skill that can be utilized in order to foster effective communication. LUV-Listening stands for:
L – Listen. The goal of listening with this skill is to listen to understand the other person rather than listening to respond to what the other person is saying. Actively listening with a genuine desire to understand where the other person is coming from is a great way to begin effective communication.
U – Understand. The goal of understanding is to show the person that you interpreted what the person shared the way they intended. A physical way to show understanding is by nodding your head while the person is speaking. If you don’t understand the main points the speaker shared, then it is ok to ask more questions to gain that understanding!
V – Validate. The goal of validating is to let the other person know that you empathize with what they shared and can have compassion for their feelings or point of view even if you do not agree.
When using this skill, it is helpful to combine it with the “I” statements explained above. Using both of these skills can create an effective way to communicate in the family or in any situation you may face. Try out one of these skills (or both!) throughout the week and see if there is an improvement in your relationships. You may find that it is your new favorite way to express your needs and maintain positive relationships.
Kumper, K. L. and Brown, J. (2011). Strengthening Families Program. Strengthening Families Foundation. https://strengtheningfamiliesfoundation.org/