Communication isn’t just talking
So often, couples or families call in asking to work on communication. What they think they’re asking for is to learn how to talk to one another better but what they’re really asking is to learn how to listen better. Healthy communication isn’t making sure you say things in such a way, though that is part of it. The majority of healthy communication consists of picking up on nonverbal cues, active listening without getting defensive, and being vulnerable.
Have you ever picked up on someone frowning or crossing their arms and realized they were upset with you? Or, have you thought someone was fine when they really needed you to check on them? A person’s tone of voice, body language, their facial expressions are all so important to pay attention to.
What’s one of the hardest nonverbal cues to read? Silence. Silence as communication can be devastating to dyads. Silence can also be super helpful to people in a conversation. Knowing when silence is helpful and when it is an unhelpful form of communication is key.
Though it may feel silly, repeating back to the other person what you just heard verbatim without any interpretations is one of the most basic, yet effective tools for communication. John Gottman and Sue Johnson, world-renowned researchers, and therapists have made their lives work out by helping couples identify healthy ways of communicating. Mirroring, or active listening is by far the most successful form of listening and communicating that they have found.
Healthy communication encompasses safety. With safety, a person will take the risk fo being vulnerable in hopes that on the other side of that comes connection. Vulnerability means letting your defenses down and allowing the other person into your deepest, most protected parts of you. The risk is that once you give yourself to that person, they may not care for it in the way you need them to. However, with healthy communication skills, you can learn how to vocalize what you need and they will be able to hear that.