coupleA major cause of stress for most people is the realm of interpersonal relationships. Whether with your partner, at home with family members, with friends, and on the job, relationships are tough. Everyone has unique needs and desires, and unique ways of expressing them. Humans are social beings. We need to relate to each other to nourish our mind and soul. But the reality is that relationships — as well as lack of relationships — can deplete our minds and souls of energy, particularly when it comes to the ever-difficult question of communication.

In short, the quality of any relationship ultimately comes down to the quality of the communication. Learning to communicate effectively goes a long way in reducing the stress and conflicts of interpersonal relationships.

Here are seven tips to effective communication, regardless of the type of interpersonal relationship:

1. Learn to sit still.

Allow the person you are communicating with to share their feelings and thoughts — uninterrupted. Empathize with them: put yourself in their shoes.

If you first seek to understand, you will not only experience the obvious outcome of better understanding, but will also find yourself being better understood by others

2. Learn to be an active listener.

This means that you must actually be engaged and interested in what the other person is communicating. Don’t just sit there silently for the sake of appearing attentive. This won’t be productive at all, for either party.

Listen to what the other person is saying without thinking about your response. Don’t be afraid to ask many, many questions to gain more information or clarify what they are telling you. Good questions encourage better communication.

3. Restate the other person’s feelings back to them.

This is not a presumptuous action, but an empathetic one. Trying to restate or reflect back to the other person your interpretation of what they are telling you shows you have carefully listened and are putting effort and care into the interaction. Plus, it is a very simple technique — and it goes a long way. Restating what you think is being said may cause some short-term conflict in some situations, but it is certainly worth the risk …

4. Don’t be impatient.

Don’t interrupt, period. Wait until the person or people you want to communicate with are done speaking. If they are not ready to listen, no matter how well you communicate, your message will not be heard.

5. Don’t try to talk over the other person.

If you find yourself being interrupted, relax; don’t try to outtalk the other person or gloat about how you never interrupt. If you are courteous and allow them to speak, eventually they will respond likewise (unless they are extremely rude). If they don’t, point out to them that they are interrupting the communication process by not reciprocating.

You can only do this if you have been a good listener. Double standards in relationships seldom work.

6. Help the other person become an active listener, too.

This can be done by asking them if they understood what you were communicating. Ask them to tell you what they understood you to have said. If they don’t seem to understand what it is you have said, keep at it until they do.

7. Don’t be afraid of long silences.

Human communication involves much more than spoken words. A great deal can be communicated during silences. Unfortunately in many situations silence can make us feel uncomfortable. Relax. Some people need silence to collect their thoughts and feel safe in communicating. The important thing to remember during silences is that you must remain an active listener.

Dr. Michael Murray

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