Psychologist-Approved Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills


5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills, Starting Now

Most of us understand that communication is essential in a relationship. But when the time comes to put things into practice, many of us also fail to communicate constructively. That’s because good intentions alone won’t cut it. Communication is a set of skills to one — and those skills require even more practice in the context of romantic relationships where needs clash and emotions run high.

According to clinical psychologist, professor and speaker Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D., communication challenges in relationships fall into two categories: content-related and process-related. Content-related communication challenges are about the topics discussed: finances or preferences in bed, for example. Process-related communication challenges pertain to things like the way you resolve conflict or the way you make decisions together — and it’s where most couples run into issues.

“It is not about the content of a disagreement, but the way that a couple resolves a disagreement that will eventually lead to a connection or a disconnection in the relationship,” says Sultanoff.

To avoid common communication pitfalls, here are five psychologist-approved ways to improve your ability to communicate.

1. Move Past the Surface-Level Topic

Chances are, you’re not actually arguing about the dishes. You’re arguing about not feeling valued or supported. And you’re probably feeling resentful as a result.

“When couples try to discuss problems, they too often talk at the surface level,” says clinical psychologist, researcher and author Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP. According to him, if you look under the anger or frustration at the heart of a conflict, you’ll often find underlying feelings such as being hurt or afraid.

So ask yourself, what are you truly feeling about the issue at hand and what is it bringing up for you?

“I challenge men to for these emotions and to not look themselves by stopping at the surface emotion. It is not a weakness; it is confidence to do so in your relationship,” says DePompo. This can look like saying “I was afraid I wasn’t enough” or “I was hurt that you forgot.”

2. Approach Communication In Two Phases

“It’s important to think of communication in two phases,” says Dr. Nick Bach, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in marriage and relational counseling. “The first phase is filled with active and reflective listening, validating feelings, and becoming empathetic to the other’s perspective. The second phase is where the ‘fixing’ comes in. This is where you can brainstorm, compromise, problem-solve, and decide what needs to happen.”

Bach says that a lot of men tend to jump into the second phase of communication too quickly with the good intention of solving the problem — but this can backfire when a partner is looking to feel heard and understood. Aim to spend more time in phase one for improved conversations.

3. Listen to Understand – Not to Be Right or Fix Things

On that note, one of the most underrated communication skills is the ability to listen properly. Aim to listen to understand – not to respond, offer a solution, or try to win an argument. Reflective listening, which consists of repeating back in your own words what your partner has said in a conversation, is a crucial practice that helps you accomplish just that. Here is what this can look like:

Partner 1: “I can’t believe that you made plans with your friends when I told you weeks ago we had to go see my mom that day. I feel bad about going alone — she wanted to see you too.”

Partner 2: “I hear that you are upset about my plans because we discussed seeing your mom weeks ago. And now you feel upset because she was looking forward to seeing us both on that day.”

“This either makes the other feel understood (and generally leads to additional sharing) or provides an opportunity for the other to correct any misperceptions. Most communication is riddled with misperceptions,” says Sultanoff.

RELATED: How to Use ‘Solve Languages’ to Improve Your Relationship

“By clarifying with reflective listening, the couple can get on the same page and stop talking past each other. The more important benefit of reflective listening is that it leads to emotional intimacy. The subjective experience of feeling understood is one of the key ingredients to emotional intimacy and reflective listening helps with that process,” adds Bach.

4. Validate Your Partner

But what happens when your partner is expressing a position that you don’t agree with? Validating your partner’s emotions, even when you disagree with what they are saying, is one of the most difficult communication skills to the master, but it’s one that comes with big payoffs and will turn you into a master of navigating conflict. (Not to mention the increased feelings of lovey-dovey connection it will foster in your relationship.)

“Your partner is likely to be able to hear you once you validate what they’re saying,” says DePompo. Bach agrees: “This does not mean you are validating their facts, logic, or evidence. You are only validating their emotions.”

For example, if your partner shares that they’ve been feeling lonely, you may want to jump in and say, “That’s not true, we spent a bunch of time together recently and just went on a trip.” But saying something along the lines of “I understand that you are feeling lonely even though we have been spending time together” will help validate their feelings so you can have a higher-quality conversation instead of a fight.

RELATED: Relationship Fights That Every Couple Has

5. Have Regular Check-Ins

Improving your communication skills should be a continuous, ongoing effort, not something you only make a priority when you are going through issues. There is value in having regular check-ins before tension builds up. This can be as simple as taking 15 minutes a day to discuss any top-of-mind feelings or concerns and listen to each other.

“Without some ritual of checking in, problems can stack up, then all of the sudden someone passes gas and the partner is like, ‘I am fed up with all your disregard for me.’ Have time to check in and make sure you process relationship hiccups with each other, otherwise you will start to develop a negative frame around your partner and so they will,” DePompo says. “Taking time to talk keeps you on the same page and connected.”

Just like with any skill, improving your ability to communicate requires repetition and trial and error. Keep the habits discussed above in mind and implement them in your daily conversations with your partner — you may just find yourself amazed at how much your relationship improves in the process.

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