Do you remember what it’s like to learn to drive a standard shift car? Or to play a musical instrumental? Or ride a bicycle? At first task seems impossible, far too complex to ever be coordinated from your one body and one mind. But with encouragement and lots of clumsy practice, we do begin to learn.
Even with our 20/20 hindsight we cannot identify exactly when we cross that invisible line from practice into knowing. But we do. We learn. And one day we recognize that what once seemed impossible has become natural, even automatic.
Learning communication skills is no different. Keep in mind that as we learn to act and speak differently, we are also learning to think differently. And that is much more difficult than driving a standard shift car.
BEGIN WITH COMMITMENT
Mastering new relationship skills is not for faint of heart. Effective communication --- especially in times of conflict --- calls for a focused dedication and repetitious practice. It calls for honest self-evaluation, humility, a sense of fair play, and a willingness to change according to needs of relationship. And it takes (at least) two.
Changing out-dated, ineffective communication patterns involves a great deal of “unlearning,” a much greater challenge than simply filling in blank slate. (Ever try to ditch a bad habit?) In a word, learning effective communication skills calls for commitment --- commitment to yourself, to your partners in communication, and to relationship as a whole.
================ COMMUNICATION STARTER KIT
What follows are 7 important tools to help build effective communication. As with any tools, first challenge is to learn how and when to use each tool. (A hammer is very important, but I don’t want to use it to repair my eyeglasses.) And keep in mind that this is only a starter set. You will hopefully be adding to this collection of tools for rest of your life.
1. Take Turns. Two separate agendas can seldom be accomplished at once. Establish some ground rules that will insure that you will take enough time for each of you to talk while other is really listening.
2. Give Information. State your perceptions and your feelings concisely and respectfully. Avoid “selling your side” as gospel truth, even when it feels that way to you. To resolve any conflict, room must be made for at least two different perspectives. And remember that emotions are subjective information, not open for debate (i.e. “you shouldn’t feel guilty,” or “you have no right to be angry”).
3. Gather Information. You have a responsibility in communication to do your share of listening, being receptive to what your partner is saying, without immediately judging and categorizing. Ask questions with curiosity, like a good interviewer. And --- here comes radical part --- listen to answers. Too often we ask questions not to gather information, but to make a point.