The Art of Communication
Andrew R. Warnecke, MA, LPC
Effective communication is one of the most important arts in human relations. Communication is so dynamic and complicated, I decided to simplify it by just focusing on verbal communication in primary relationships like marriage and family. I often speak on anger management and communication, and I believe they are connected in so many ways. If we don’t effectively communicate, then the chance of anger and resentment go up exponentially. I like to think of effective communication as a force shield that protects us from all sorts of problems in marriage and family. Being able to speak our truth in a firm but gentle way is the true secret to a happy marriage and family. We all have our own reality and we see things the way we interpret them, so if we are to understand one another we must really work on developing the skills of empathy and understanding.
Men and women struggle because we are socially conditioned differently when it comes to communication. “Sugar and spice and everything nice” and “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails” may not be mainstream sayings anymore, but they do still apply in this day and age. I see that men and woman have very different ways of getting their points across, and now we even have some serious role reversals. I deal with so many marriages and families in crisis simply because the people involved don’t really know how to say how they feel or what they want from one another. Being able to let your loved ones know that you are scared or hurt or lonely is so very important and necessary for collaboration, compromise, and camaraderie. Just think of how important it is in business to let your supply chain know what you need to keep the revenue flowing. I believe that we are poorly trained when it comes to asking for what we want from one another. I speak to couples a lot and I ask simple questions like what his favorite color is or what his greatest fear is or what are her long-term dreams or goals, and as amazing as it sounds, most of the time the answers are wrong if not way off.
So what do we do to fix our communication issues? Well first of all, like any skill, we must practice to get better. We have to get in the game and take risks based on what we have to gain rather than what we have to lose. I encourage my patients to spend time asking each other questions and listening to another without judgment or criticism. It’s amazing how much we can learn about one another when we open our ears and keep our mouth closed. I had a professor in graduate school say to me, “I have one mouth and two ears. What is God trying to say?” Parents can learn so much about their children if they actively communicate by asking open-ended questions, rather than yes or no questions. I also believe that we can bridge the communication gap if we are willing to write down our thoughts and feelings and share them with one another. I often give these assignments, and the results are helpful and sometimes amazing. When we sit down and take the time to really convey what we think and feel and then have the opportunity to read and edit our own material, we can much more accurately say what we want or what we are getting upset or angry about. I often deal with couples who are fighting about things that have little or nothing to do with what the real issue is. One of the best ways to start better communication is to use “I” statements instead of “you” messages. When we say “you,” we almost automatically set off defense mechanisms in the person we are talking to. “You made me angry,” is much more difficult to respond to than “I am angry because…” The ownership of the feeling is empowering and allows for more options in the communication process.
I believe that blame lies at the root of chronic anger. If we blame someone for how we feel, then we have trouble keeping our emotional composure, which is key to effective communication. I recently had a patient who was court-ordered for anger management. He started telling me all of the things that made him angry from the news media to the Atlanta traffic that he drives in everyday. I have been working with him to increase his awareness and ownership of his feelings. As soon as he comes to terms with the fact that “he is getting angry” rather than “everything is making him angry,” he can get to the bottom of what is really going on. In closing, I would like to share with you a couple books that can really help with the way you communicate with your spouse and children: Scream Free Marriage and Scream Free Parenting. The books are written by a friend of mine, Hal Edward Runkle, LMFT who really hit the bullseye.