Communication is the key to strong relationships

My passion is to help others build strong, deep relationships so they can have a happy life. Communication is a big part of any relationship. As two people converse, it is easy to have miscommunications or misunderstandings. We are all individuals with our personal experience and context that filter the messages we create and receive.

We also know that as humans, we’re emotional beings, and it’s easy to let our emotions get in the way from time to time. Most commonly, in the way we communicate with others. Have you ever received a piece of critical feedback and felt attacked, ashamed, judged, or unfairly mistreated? I have, I think we all have. These natural reactions are understandable, but they do not serve us. When we react in an emotionally heightened state, we let our emotions get the best of us. Instead of reacting, I’ve learned to take a moment, pause, assess my personal feelings and thoughts and respond, so that we can dive into conversations to build stronger bonds and help us grow personally and professionally.

The more space we can provide ourselves between a stimulus and our reaction, the better we can communicate in a calm and empathetic fashion. And while you may not feel like strengthening a relationship when you receive feedback, it is in those times that we have the most significant opportunity for connection. Solving challenges and ensuring both parties feel heard, understood, and satisfied with the conversation is a skill that will serve you well in all avenues of life.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m asking you to blindly thank everyone for their feedback and accept it as is. I’m asking you to get comfortable in the present, feel the emotions as they wash through you, and pause before reacting. Once the emotion has passed, focus on better understanding what the other person is saying, needs, and expects, in addition to your own needs. Bottling up feelings and not responding can be just as damaging to a relationship as losing your cool in a conversation. 

Power dynamics create oppressive environments. You see, if I focus on what I need at the expense of others, I’m pulling power to myself. Conversely, suppose I focus solely on what the other person needs, the power dynamic is still alive and well. The goal is not to create a power dynamic but a relationship of equal standing where we mutually respect and support one another’s needs.

Context is key. We must realize that each of us interacts with the world through our lens; our context and experience create how we naturally perceive and understand the world. As an immigrant to the U.S. and English as a third language, I’ve had to learn not to take phrases at “face value.” While I’ve been in the U.S. for over 20 years, I still find myself remembering some of the language’s nuances, especially regarding specific cultural references, analogies, idioms, and slang. And I’ve found myself misunderstanding others and putting my foot in my mouth a time or two.

So how do you go from being triggered or misunderstood to building stronger relationships?

First, you must pause. Self-awareness and understanding when your emotions have taken hold are critical to ensuring you approach the conversation empathetically. To help me build self-awareness skills, I’ve created a morning routine that includes meditation, focusing on getting present and how my body feels. Simple acts like concentrating on what it feels like when my morning coffee tastes bitter or the cold floor beneath my feet help me practice getting present. So much of our lives, we run around on auto-pilot thinking about something else or letting our emotions control us. Similar to how you would drive to work and forgot how you got there. Our brain is taking shortcuts to conserve energy, but that is not helpful when communicating with another person.

Amid a conversation, quickly becoming self-aware as feeling your emotions and your body’s responses will help the emotion pass, and you can assess what’s best to do next, rather than react out of fight or flight. I’ve also had to train myself not to judge my emotions; they’re natural, and stuffing them doesn’t help. It’s better to let them pass naturally and give myself time to process than try to pretend they don’t exist or react to them.

As I assess rather than judge my emotion, I evaluate if it’s positive, negative, or neutral? By assessing how I’m feeling, I can start to understand why I may be feeling this way, which typically goes back to personal beliefs, values, and biases. By first feeling and then assessing our emotions, we create the space for us to choose how to best respond in a way that supports both ourselves and the other party.

The next step is to understand the feedback and why they shared it.

Check your ego at the door and get curious. Two people will likely not see a situation from the same vantage point, so understanding the feedback and the angle it’s being viewed from will help you better assess how to communicate to move forward.

Ensure you’re communicating from a place of empathy. Work to understand what the other person needs from you and what you need from them. Understanding both parties’ needs helps you turn a possible conflict into an opportunity to build a deeper connection.

Aristotle puts it well when he wrote, “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” By taking steps to get present, I can better assess and communicate with others. I can look beyond the actual words for deeper meaning. And turn a possibly challenging conversation into an opportunity to build a stronger relationship.

I challenge you to do the same.

  • Pause and be present for at least 5 minutes each morning.
  • Pause and acknowledge your emotions before responding to any stimuli.
  • Drop any ego – Ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or happy or kind?”
  • Connect their needs and feelings as well as your needs and feelings.
  • Start asking questions to validate their feelings with curiosity.

If communication becomes heated, which sometimes does, you can always call a break and give all parties space to chill, reflect, and then re-engage. Set another meeting to continue or take a sip of water and feel it runs down your throat or take a bathroom break; these small respites of time will help everyone assess, refocus, and communicate, even when things get hard. 

Are you ready to pause and have a great year of great relationships?

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