The Art of Communication
Updated: Feb 2
After having worked as a Registered Nurse for 8 years, I decided to become a counselling therapist so that I could help people heal more than the physical alone. Having gone through my own healing journey, I discovered that while talk therapy alone is very helpful, it had limitations. This led me to learn Heart Centered Hypnotherapy, Holy Fire Reiki, Somatic Experiencing, Breathwork and Intuitive Readings, so that I could combine the mind, body and spirit to healing.
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Getting a message across, listening and being listened to is an art and a skill that can be developed. Furthermore, communicating effectively is not always easy when emotions get involved. In fact, when emotions are highly activated, we can respond from a place that reflects our primitive (fight/flight/freeze/appease) response, rather than from a place that is aligned with our values and morals. For example, when we go into fight mode, we may insult others, name call, blame or shame the other person. Fleeing the conversation could look like stonewalling (ignoring the other person and refusing to respond), walking away, and thinking of something else. The freeze response could look like being unable to even speak, feeling frozen in place. And finally, appeasing would look like agreeing with everything to keep the peace, even if it is not truly what you think. The interesting thing is that this highly emotional place gets developed from childhood, so in a sense, it is almost like we are responding as young children in adult bodies. When you respond from a highly emotional space, you might also experience anger, anxiety, fear, worry etc. Time can sometimes feel like it is speeding up and that there is a rush to answer.
That being said, the first thing that you need to do, before anything else, is access a state of calm. This helps you keep your logical thinking brain online, so that you can respond in ways that are aligned with your values, bring more presence to the conversation, and activate your listening skills. In order to achieve this, you can either practice grounding techniques that I discussed in the article about managing triggers or you might find some of your own techniques useful. Usually, an effective technique is anything that can bring you back into the present, such as using any of your 5 senses. I particularly like feeling the sensation of my feet on the ground or chair the chair supporting me, as it can be accessed anywhere and anytime, and can be quickly accessed without anyone noticing. It often doesn’t take long to bring a state of calm either. Using tools to calm yourself is also something that you can also practice regularly during the day, to build your brain muscle so that it can become easier to access on demand. Here are other examples:
Sensations: paying attention to your breath, your feet on the ground, the seat supporting your buttocks and back, touching your fingers together and noticing the sensations, touching an object, touching something cold or warm
Visuals: Looking at objects around you, taking in the colors, textures, shapes
Sounds: Noticing far away sounds, sounds close by, loud sounds, louder and quieter sounds
Once you are able to manage your own anxiety, there are a few skills that you can utilize that can be helpful to increase your chance of being heard. While we cannot control how other people listen, there are things that you can do to increase your chances of being heard and preventing further conflicts. One of the first things that you can do, which might sound counter intuitive, is to listen to the other person first. In fact, when others feel heard, they will be more receptive to hear what you have to say. Think about this. Have you ever been so excited to share something that it is hard to listen to what others have to say until you get it out of your chest? This would be the same idea. Now, listening the other first is not about rushing through what they have to say so that you can get it over with and then jumping in as fast as you can. In fact, listening is more than that.
How to listen well
Listening well does require activation of the part of the brain that is logical, and that is why calming yourself down is crucial. Then, it requires you to really hear what the other has to say, by remaining curious, and trying to really understand what they are saying. If you are thinking about what you will respond before the person is done talking, then you are simply responding rather than really hearing them out. Try avoiding looking for points that you want to argue, or to prove what is right or wrong. Remember that your experience might be different than the other person, and that both can be true. Let go of who is right or wrong, and try to understand what the other person is feeling, needing, or experiencing. It might help to practice reflecting back in your own words what you’ve heard, or validating a feeling that the other is going through. Remaining curious to find out more, shows interest and can open up discussion rather than shut it down. It’s normal to feel triggered in a conversation, especially if you don’t see things the same way, but do what you can to stay as anchored as you can. Remember that you don't have to agree on everything, but that even if you don't, it doesn't make your experience less real.
The other thing that might not be considered but is quite important when having a serious conversation, is making sure that the setting is ideal to have a conversation. In fact, it might not be the best time to talk about something serious, and that requires time and attention, when the other person needs to go to work for example. This would also be the case when there are distractions, such as being in a public place, while the children are around and asking for your attention, or when fixing up the house for example. Something that you can do, is to inform the other person that you are needing to talk and find a time that you can both be present and attentive. This sets up the best setting to give full attention to what you have to say. The other thing is that having a conversation when you, the other person, or both are in a state of high anxiety or anger. Then, it’s hard to have a constructive conversation as both will be responding from highly emotional states. If this is the case, it’s a great opportunity to set boundaries, take the time to settle the emotions and then come back when you are both rational again.
Expressing your message effectively
Now, once you’ve remained calmed and listened to the other person, it’s still not time to pick out everything that you disagree on. However, when you are sharing what you want to express, especially when it relates to something that is bothering you, be sure to stick with I statements (I statements do not mean “I feel that you are a jerk”). You can stick to the following statement when you are expressing yourself:
I feel EMOTION (hurt, sad, angry, mad, disgusted...) when you BEHAVIOR (do/don’t do something, say something, behave a certain way, do a certain action). Moving forward, I need you to do/not do the following behavior (focusing on a solution to move forward).
It is important to stay away from what they call JAB-ing. This acronym means Judging, Assuming and Blaming the other person. For example judging the person could consist of name calling (you are so weird, stupid, odd…). Assuming would be to assume what other think feel and do (you always do this, you just think this), which pulls you away from the facts or curiosity. And finally, blaming is saying that it’s the other person’s entire fault (always do this, you just don’t care, you…). The JAB is a sure way to get the other person in the defensive mode.
Finally, the more you can stick to the facts of your experience and what occurred, the harder it is for the others to defend that. It might help to keep in mind that often, the intended goal is to get the relationship closer, even if you are stating something that you need to change. Because if you think about it, when you ask for change, you are asking the other person to do something different so that you can be in relationship with them.
In short, here's a summary to simplify what I talked about
1- Calm yourself down
2- Have the appropriate setting
3- Listen first
4- Keep it short
5- Stick to I statements (I feel (emotion) when you (behavior)) and facts