Without a doubt, communication is fundamental to connecting with one another. However, communicating well with partners or family members, even during the best of times, can be challenging for most. In times of conflict, communicating well can feel absolutely daunting. In fact, difficulty with communicating is the most common complaint between couples and family members (you’re not alone!) (Danzinger, 1976). Most of the time, we don’t know how to express ourselves in a way that makes us, and others, feel heard and seen (Martino, July 11).
Rita Martino MSW, a counsellor at Cornerstone Counselling, says, “Communication has “commune” and “union” in it, which speaks to me as a flow and movement with each other instead of being stuck and separated.” When we “flow” together, we are working to solve the problem together, and we feel connected to each other. When we’re not in “flow”, we are defensive and stuck in the problem, which may keep us feeling separated. In conflict, many families are afraid of losing each other or not being seen (Martino, July 11).
In any relationship, the foundation of each others’ connection is love. When we can’t properly communicate with the people we love, we risk hurting the relationship. Fortunately, there are many ways to better communicate with each other in ways that allow your voice to be heard, while also positively building up the other person and strengthening your relationship (Motley, 2008).
First, Rita recommends “sharing and hearing” versus “talking and listening”.
Talking means that you are trying to get your point across and listening means that you are only processing the other person’s words without trying to deeply understand what they are saying. On the contrary, sharing means that you are offering what you have to say and hearing means that you are making an effort to understand and validate what the other person is saying.
The “Sharing and Hearing” technique shifts the conversation away from being against one another and towards working together. Some examples of what each person could say to better understand the other are:
- “Is there another way you could say that?”
- “Could you say a little more about that?”
The basis of this technique is to let go of your expected outcomes, and instead focus on:
- Solution: Working together as a team to solve the issue.
- Reconciliation: Coming together and figuring out how to take care of the relationship.
- Restoration: Restoring the relationship and healing any damage that may have occurred (Martino, July 11).
Secondly, Rita also recommends the “Time-Out” technique, which means taking a break from the conversation if you feel as though everyone involved is coming from strong emotions and intensity. Kindly requesting to take a temporary break from the discussion allows space for everyone’s emotions to calm down. It also allows time for introspection and a deeper understanding of the situation, which will then provide a better opportunity to resolve the conflict when the conversation resumes (Martino, July 11).
A third technique is called the “Constructive Communication Pattern”, which means that during conflict, each person is expressing their feelings while also suggesting solutions. In this technique, it is important to acknowledge each other’s complaints, and willingly discuss them. Additionally, every negative comment has to be offset by 5 positive comments. This is because negative comments tend to have more of a lasting impact on peoples’ well-being than positive comments do (Motley, 2008).
Each of these techniques focuses on shifting away from being defensive and, instead, coming from a place of care and wanting to work together. Each technique is meant to help strengthen the relationship amidst conflict and build patterns of prioritizing working together versus against each other.
Blog post by Logan Hedberg, Volunteer
Danziger, Kurt. (1976). Interpersonal Communication: Pergamon International Library: Pergamon General Psychology Series. Retreived July 2020 from https://books.google.ca/books?id=0f5NDAAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PA121#v=onepage&q&f=false
Martino, R. (2020, July 11). Personal interview.
Motley, Michael T. (2008). Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication. Retreived July 2020 from https://books.google.ca/books?id=7z12AwAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false