Whether it be romantic, platonic, or professional, good communication is an integral piece of any healthy relationship. Communication is a two-way transmission of information that leads to a sense of mutual understanding.

For relationships, this means both listening to the other person and expressing your needs and feelings. By being mindful of the ways in which we listen, respond, and use communication channels, we can build greater and healthier connection with others.


How can we communicate in healthy ways?

The Interpersonal Communication Model paints a helpful picture. First, a communicator who has something to say, encodes this information into a message using words, gestures, and tone. This is then transmitted to a receiver, who decodes all of this input and understands the intended meaning.

Encoding is important to understand. For example, you ask a friend if they need help and they respond, “Nah, I’m enjoying the challenge…”, you understand they actually do want help. The message has been encoded with a specific tone, gesture and context; in this case, sarcasm.

In other situations, either professional or personal, decoding becomes more difficult. Reflective Listening is a strategy that will make the process manageable. Reflective listening occurs when the receiver provides feedback to the encoder, confirming their understanding. This can be done with relevant questions, paraphrasing, or repeating back aspects of what has been said. This allows the communicator an opportunity to clarify their message.

Additionally, how we respond to communication influences the health of a relationship. The Active Constructive Responding Model breaks down our responses, or feedback, into constructive or destructive categories. It is important to be constructive when we have conversations with those we care about.

For example, when a friend excitedly tells us about their promotion at work we could say, “What? I thought you hated that job?”, or we could say, “That’s amazing news, you deserve it!”. There will be a big difference in the outcome of these responses. One sets the stage for an argument while the other validates the communicator.


Communication in a Digital World

Finally, no matter how hard we work at communicating well, there will always be some element in social interactions which distorts, or blocks, our communication efforts. Barriers can include our social status, our cultural and language differences, and even our emotions and moods.

One barrier that has become more prevalent in our society is the virtual world. Using technology to communicate such as (email or texting) is extremely convenient, however we sacrifice a richness in expression that can have negative impacts on our intended message. Dr. Pillay, a Harvard Medical School professor, argues that in-person or virtual face-to-face communication allows for a much broader degree of understanding and lessens the risk of miscommunication. “Mirror neutrons” are engaged when speaking face-to-face, which results in a sense of familiarity that cannot be easily replicated.

For significant others, friends, family, and working relationships, we should be mindful of the communication we engage in. We should seek to listen reflectively, respond constructively, be wary of the shallowness of virtual communication, and make every opportunity to communicate face to face, either in-person or virtually.


Blog post by Oliver Fenske, Volunteer



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