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Improve your relationships with better communication

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Apr 22, 2021.

Have you ever had an argument or misunderstanding with a loved one or colleague that could have been avoided with better communication? Communicating effectively is crucial for solid, healthy relationships. Yet it can be challenging, particularly in circumstances such as working through differing opinions with a spouse or broaching sensitive topics in the workplace. It's easy to get stuck in poor communication habits, speaking or reacting impulsively rather than supportively.

But any uncomfortable feelings raised in a difficult conversation can be a short-term inconvenience for a long-term gain if you talk in an honest, open manner. Supportive communication improves your relationships by focusing on empathy and mindfulness, and it can also help increase positive emotions such as joy, hope, peace, gratitude and love. The body responds to these emotions by reducing stress hormones and increasing endorphins, also known as "feel good" chemicals. Over time, these effects can cause positive changes in mindset and creativity, as well as increase immune function and longevity.

Whether you're facing a challenging situation or daily mundane circumstances, apply these tips for more-effective communication.

  1. Listen and reflect. As human beings we have a desire to feel heard and understood. So resist the urge to offer up your own opinions or experiences when someone is expressing a concern to you. Simply listen and reflect back what the other person is saying before offering any insight or personal anecdotes.

    For example, if a co-worker shares a frustrating situation that's affecting a project at work, resist the immediate urge to share your own similar experience or offer strategies to correct the situation. Instead, simply mirror back what you are hearing by saying, "This sounds frustrating for you, and it sounds like the impact it's having on your project is stressful." You can't be sure what someone's needs are when they confide in you, so offer a listening, empathetic ear first, and take it from there.

  2. Tune in. It's common to operate on autopilot with people you talk to regularly, such as your partner or a family member. Make an effort to notice detail and be mindful in your interaction. The next time you greet your spouse after a long day, for instance, pay attention to little things, such as the way their voice shifts or eyes widen when they are sharing their day with you. This practice allows you to be present in the moment, which can bring about feelings of calm and purposeful intention that foster more meaningful exchanges.

  3. Be direct, but diplomatic. Many people have a hard time expressing an opposing viewpoint or bringing up uncomfortable subjects. Speaking in "I" statements rather than "you" statements can help you avoid communicating in a defensive manner, while still getting your needs across clearly.

For example, you might say to a co-worker, "I need a week's notice in order to complete this work," rather than "You didn't give me enough time to get this done." Or with family or a friend, instead of "You didn't tell me you were coming to town," you could say, "Next time, I need a quick text that you might be dropping in, so I can make sure I'm home when you come by. I would be disappointed to miss you." Expressing your needs and being factual can help disconnect emotions in difficult conversations and offer a more needs-based approach to reach an agreement.

These strategies stem from a foundation of compassion. When you respond without reacting to your initial instincts, you remain thoughtful of others, which leads to communication that builds healthy relationships.

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