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4 Ways to Improve Communication

Updated: Mar 22

Learn how to communicate better

Communication is hard - that’s why so many people just like you seek out resources or therapy to improve their communication skills and techniques. Just like any other skill or technique, communication takes practice. Communication is something you learn and it makes sense that as we embark on adulthood we find ourselves needing to continue to work in this area of our lives. You might even find yourself struggling in this area in particular. Rest assured that you are not alone and this is a very common topic brought up in therapy. So, let’s talk about communication.



Why you communicate the way that you do


You communicate the way that you do because that is how you learned to communicate - it’s what you were taught. Now, I’m not necessarily talking about elementary school and structured lessons here. What I am referring to is the passive ways we learn to communicate through interactions with our parents, other members of our household, TV shows and our peers.


Some of you might be feeling a bit worried right about now if you're realizing you didn’t have the best influences growing up. The good news is that our brains are flexible and we can learn new skills and tune up existing ones at any time in our lives. So let’s dive into the 4 ways you can improve your communication today.


Clarity in conversation


Many people lack clarity when it comes to communication. Clarity starts with first having a good understanding of what you are trying to communicate in the first place. Sometimes we respond just to respond or because we feel that we have to respond right away. If you need time to process and think, then take the time - it could likely save a friendship or help you set a boundary. You could say something like "this conversation is really important to me, would it be okay if we take a 5-minute break before we continue?"


Clarity extends to the conversation as a whole as well. Do you sometimes feel that you and another person are having 2 separate conversations together? It’s good practice to pause the conversation and ask “hey…are we still talking about “x”?”


Accusing vs. assertive


Language matters in conversation and oftentimes when we use accusatory language we can find it impossible to really get our message across. Why? Because when you use the accusatory language you are going to be met with defensiveness.


Let’s think about someone you are upset with right now. How would you tell them why you are upset with them? Now, take a look at your answer to assess if you used accusatory language. Here are some examples of accusatory language:


  • “You don’t care about me…”

  • “You keep making me angry…”

  • “I wish you weren’t so bossy…”


In order to be more assertive, we need to use “I” statements and explain what we need or how we feel. So let’s reframe these examples to be more assertive:


  • “I feel upset right now and lonely”

  • “I want to be treated with kindness”

  • “I feel disconnected from you”


Active listening


Active listening is important in conversations because a big part of having healthy communication is understanding what the other person is trying to say to you. Sometimes we don’t engage in active listening and this can lead to creating assumptions, reacting emotionally, interrupting or not responding to the actual question or topic brought up. When we don’t take the time to understand what someone else is trying to say, we can get caught up in becoming defensive to specific aspects of the conversation or getting “stuck” on specifics.


An easy way to practice active listening is to repeat back what you understood from what the other person just said. This way, they can correct you if you misunderstood them and you can be more confident in your response to them. This can look like: "you feel left out because I didn't invite you to my party last night".


Reflecting


My favourite way to reflect on conversations or reactions to conversations is using the CBT triangle. When a stressful event occurs such as your friend cancelling plans last minute, we can use the triangle to assess and understand why we responded the way that we did.

You can ask yourself these 3 questions and follow along with the triangle:

  • What was my initial thought?

  • What feeling or emotion did this thought bring up?

  • What action or behaviour did this then result in from me?

The culprit here is usually the automatic thought we have to the event (we usually have a habit of responding in specific ways) such as “my friend doesn’t care about me”. Now let’s do the triangle again but this time we will change our initial thought to something healthier such as “I know it wasn’t personal, my friend has been really busy lately”.


You can learn more about self-regulation and the CBT triangle in one of my past blogs here: https://www.grasslandspsychotherapy.ca/post/how-to-self-regulate-like-a-pro


How therapy can help


Communication issues come in all shapes and sizes. You could be struggling with communication at work, in your relationships, with your family, kids etc. These 4 ways to improve your communication 1. clarity 2. accusing vs. assertive 3. active listening and 4. reflecting are great starting points for improving your skills. If you are looking to go deeper into resolving and fine-tuning your communication, therapy might be your next step.