Check in and get feedback. Respectful communication isn't rocket science. Keep it simple. Ask the person you are talking to if you are being respectful. If they request you to do something (e.g., sit down, step back, lower your voice), comply if you feel it will help the conversation. By considering a request, you are showing you care about making the other person feel comfortable. It can be the difference between a good and bad conversation.
Body language, The common saying is communication is over 90% body language (nonverbal communication). Pay attention to physical cues. If you or your partner are exhibiting any cues of frustration (e.g., arms crossed, eyes rolling, clenching fists, tone), then address it or take a break. This applies to any feeling. Our body is always presenting signals about how we are feeling (For more on the body-emotion connection, click here). Body language is a great way to assess how a conversation is progressing or deteriorating.
Give your undivided attention. Put down the laptop or smartphone and make eye contact. If you are multi-tasking during a conversation, you are asking for trouble. For you, multi-tasking may mean you are doing your best to make time to talk while meeting other demands. For the other person, multi-tasking might mean that they aren't important enough for your undivided attention. Everyone is busy, but taking 5 minutes out of your day may prevent an argument that lasts hours or days.
Summarize what has been said. Summarizing what the other person says is a great way to show that you are paying attention. It's an effective technique to ensure you comprehend the other person's message. If you have trouble focusing, repeating the information can save you from frustration and misunderstandings. Summarizing what has been said allows for the other person to determine if they are accurately expressing their thoughts and feelings. If you have ever said or thought, "That's not what I meant" or "You took that the wrong way", summarizing what someone says might be beneficial.
Conversations can be positive, negative, or both. But each person can ensure that respect is maintained throughout the conversation. Staying respectful keeps your relationship strong, even if there is a disagreement.
The next post will focus on when conversations deteriorate, and the guidelines that can help you have a healthy argument.
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!