The Fight - by Jake Hamilton

4 Simple Steps to Healthier Communication


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Communication isn’t hard but it does require courage, curiosity, empathy, and care.

Those are the 4 Simple Steps to healthier communication in your relationships. Let briefly break them down.

  1. Courageous Engagement – The first step is to courageously engage in conversation when everything is us says to “avoid” or “bury”. Men especially must learn to take the first step, to bring up the elephant in the room or the disagreement we just had. It can be as simple as “Are you ready to talk about what just happened” or “Is something bothering you? Would you like to talk about it?” But this isn’t just about stepping up, this is about paying attention. You may try to engage, and the person simply says “no”, or they cut you short. Then you are able to say, “No problem. Just let me know if you ever want to talk.” or “It’s OK. Just wanted to let you know I’m available”. Continued safe interactions like this can build trust over time. You aren’t demanding that they engage with you right now, you were simply letting them know that you would like or enjoy engagement in the future.
  2. Curious Questions: Once engagement has occurred and you are in the midst of a conversation your goal is not to make demands or statements, you goal is to ask lots of questions. As they bring up something, you first repeat back what they said to you, “So what I hear you saying is…..” and then ask questions like, “Can you tell me more about…..” or “What did you mean when you said….” This allows the speaker to feel heard and safe in your conversation.
  3. Empathetic Listening: What you want to avoid in developing deep connections in conversations is offering help that wasn’t asked for by making assumptions about things that were never communicated. Empathetic listening is when we get into the other persons shoes and share in their pain. Sympathy says, “I feel bad FOR you” but empathy says, “I feel bad WITH you”. Do not attempt at any point to “fix” what the other person is sharing. You are a witness to someone else’s pain or victory; this builds trust and develops depth.
  4. Compassionate Care: Finally, after you have asked “Is there anything else you want to share with me?” and they have no more to offer you as the listener, you can simply ask “Is there anything you need from me?” We are moving from heart to hands. Compassion literally means to “Suffer Together”. This is a chance to show the person you are listening to that this is about them, not about you. You are not just going to give them a pat on the back and move on, you are going to get in the mud with them for as long as it takes. Just a note to married couples if you are attempting to do these steps for repair after a fight or disagreement. If your spouse asks you for something you feel you are already doing you CAN NOT respond with “I already do that!” It removes all the care you just attempted to offer. When they say that, they aren’t attempting to demean your efforts they are communicating that they aren’t able to see the effort so you are invited to try in news ways to meet the need. You can even ask for suggestions, “What ways would you like me to do that?” or “Can you give me examples of what that looks like?”

One more note for married couples, this is a great way to rebuild trust if it is broken in your relationship. You can offer to engage and if they say no and you honor their request but you keep attempting in simple, conversational ways over time and they see that you are creating safety, even if they choose to push you away, there will be a time where they open just a little and the way you serve and pursue them with kindness and care will allow them to feel safe with you again over time.

I recognize that this is an oversimplified version of this difficult and often daunting reality when attempting to connect with someone but it will hopefully help build some frame of reference for your future interactions with people you claim to care about.

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