Communication: The Key to Successful Relationships

There is a great quote by Jim Rohn that, in a few words, sums up the essence of good communication:

“If you just communicate, you can get by, but if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles.”

It is easy to live your life just getting by. However, where’s the fun in that?  Learning simple yet effective communication skills can help improve all relationships. Any skill you want to learn or habit you want to change takes time and practice but is worth the effort.

Psychologist and relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman found that more than any other factor, the key to successful relationships, is effective communication. Skilled communication helps build trust, have better conflict resolution, and provide clarity and a better quality of life. When a couple communicates appropriately, there is no limit to what they can achieve. Making even a few minor changes to your communication can have a powerful impact.

A woman meets with an attorney and says, “I want to divorce my husband!

“OK,” the attorney responds, “let’s start with a few questions first.”

“Like what?” she asks.

“Well, do you have any grounds?”

“Yes, we have about 5 acres out in the country.”

“No, I mean, do you have a grudge?”

“No, but we have a nice, wide carport and a storage shed.”

“Let me ask this a different way. Do you have any complaints about him?”                                      

“Like what?”

“Well, does he beat you up?”

“No, I’m up at least an hour before him daily.”

“Well, what about your role here? Do you ever wake up grouchy?”

“No, I just let him sleep when he’s in a bad mood.”

Exasperated, the attorney finally asks, “Why exactly do you want to get a divorce?”

“Well,” she replies, “the guy just can’t communicate!”

This made me think of the story of the דור הפַּלָּגָה. The people of that generation all spoke the same language and united to build a tower up to the sky. They wanted to be equal to Hashem. Their punishment for this sin was that everyone began speaking a different language. I am sure you can imagine the chaos and confusion that ensued. Hashem said, “If with one language they unite in such a way, then nothing they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us go down and mix up their speech so that they will not understand one another.” Some people feel they speak a completely different language from their spouse or dating partner. The whole men are from Mars, women are from Venus idea. This may be true, but if you have the will and desire, you can learn to understand each other’s language.

There is more to communication than the words you say. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian studied communication and came up with the 7 – 38 – 55 rule, which states that communication is:

  • 7% spoken word
  • 38% tone of voice
  • 55% body language

Spoken Word – Positive rephrasing can help reduce conflict, improve communication, and increase optimism. Here are a few ways to rephrase a statement from negative to positive.

  • Instead of “Don’t throw your socks on the floor”, you can say “I like when you put your socks in the hamper.”
  • Instead of “You make me mad when you raise your voice,” you can say  “I felt mad when you raised your voice.”
  • Instead of “I don’t get it,” you can say “Please help me understand.”
  • Instead of “Sorry I’m late,” you can say “I appreciate your patience.”
  • Instead of “Don’t forget to buy milk,” you can say “Remember to buy the milk.”

It is also important to remember that no one is a mind reader. Much miscommunication occurs when you assume the other person knows what you mean or want. State your wishes clearly, without talking in riddles or beating around the bush.

Written Word –I am adding this section because it is an essential form of communication in today’s world. Many of our connections are made through text, email, or social media. So much can get lost in translation when something is written and not spoken. It is recommended, especially in close relationships, to have face-to-face conversations when the topic is important or serious to avoid any misunderstanding.

Tone of Voice –The manner in which you speak. Are you speaking in a respectful, assertive, factual, humorous, questioning, conversational, or sarcastic way? Your tone includes three different aspects:

  • Pitch – An overly high-pitched voice can suggest nervousness, lack of confidence, or defensiveness.
  • Pace – It is always best to speak steadily and evenly. Too fast, and it’s difficult to understand. Too slow, and it may be construed as offensive or demeaning.
  • Volume – This goes without saying. Yelling out of anger or to prove a point will backfire. Taking a deep breath can help calm you down enough to lower your voice.

Body language – Most of our nonverbal communication is done subconsciously. We don’t realize we are doing it, but when we become aware of our body language’s impact, that is the first step in change.

  • Facial expressions – The human face is highly expressive, able to convey countless emotions without saying a word. If you don’t want to show anger, frustration, or annoyance, practice smiling even when you are not feeling happy or relaxed.
  • Eye Contact – Gazing into people’s eyes, even briefly, builds an emotional connection. You may not want to stare because that is a sign of aggression and makes people uncomfortable, but looking into the person’s eyes every few seconds shows you are interested in them.
  • Posture – Standing or sitting with shoulders back is a sign of confidence and may indicate that you are focused and paying attention. Hunched shoulders may indicate that you are timid, bored, or uncertain.
  • Space – It is vital to give people personal space. Standing too close to someone may make them uncomfortable. At the same time, though, you want to lean towards the person you are talking to and not away to show interest.
  • Hand Gestures – Having hands in a pocket, behind the back, or arms folded may come naturally to some people, but it can be perceived as being aloof, indifferent, or uninterested. Having your palms visible is a sign of openness, interest, or attentiveness. “Speaking with your hands” helps you explain yourself more efficiently and helps others understand you better.
  • Smile – Many people forget to smile! This is the most effective way to get someone to like you. Smile at them more often!

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