What’s the Problem?
”We're not communicating.” “We need to communicate better.” “We have stopped communicating” are complaints I regularly field from potential clients seeking psychotherapy. Ironically, people are never not communicating. Even when we're not speaking we are communicating through facial expressions, body language, action, or inaction. Communication is not a choice. The only option is communication—constructive or destructive.
We are only as good communicating with our partners as the people have been who have previously communicated with us. Communication skills derive from our experience in relationships. If your mother and father were good communicators, chances are you are a good communicator. If, on the other hand, you grew up around poor communicators, you may not have words for feelings or the ability to express your needs effectively.
It's hard to survive without adequate communication skills. A parent unable to receive or adequately interpret an infant's signals is a threat to that infant’s survival. Effective, positive, and responsive communication with mother keeps an infant alive. Throughout our lifespans, communication with significant others remains vital.
What goes wrong with communication
Three essentials for effective communication are an open channel, verbal communication, and metacommunication. Disclosure, receptivity, and modulation constitute an open channel of communication. An open channel is analogous to playing catch with another person. The person with the ball tosses it to the other person. Disclosure. The other person catches the ball. Receptivity. The person with the ball indicates where he would like the other person to stand, before tossing it, and the person without the ball positions himself correctly to receive the toss. Modulation. If any one action fails, you can't play catch. In this case, communication becomes problematic due to a faulty channel. Every statement one makes and how they convey them makes a difference. Body language and facial expressions also express important information
.Two good people can have a bad channel. One party discloses something. The other party does not receive what has been disclosed which results in ineffective communication. Or a more common problem, one person does not change their behavior, based on information received from their partner thus rendering communication ineffective. For poor communicators, proximity to others in varying degrees represents what they are accustomed to when it comes to relationships. Proximity is to a relationship what fast food is to a diet.
An open channel is the connection. Previous relationships in which one has been neglected, isolated, and abandoned can decrease one's ability to connect. Substance use, mental illness, misogyny, and low self-esteem can make a person unreachable in their relationships.
Attention is a limited energy resource. It tends to rise and fall with self-care. The better your self-care, the more likely you will be to recognize when you and your relationships need attention. When feeling tired and rundown it becomes easy to avoid responsibilities.
How we know when something is wrong with our communication
Feedback we receive from others often indicates communication problems. When our communication partners fuss, complain, and grumble we know something is wrong. Their protests serve as an attempt to alert us to a problem. Constant complaining can indicate a closed channel. For most people, if they can't get positive attention, negative attention will do. View complaining as an indicator that your channel is closed.
How to improve our communication
To establish an open channel focus on its components: how you say things, how you receive what your partner has said, and changing your behavior based on what you have heard your partner say. Also, learn to choose your words wisely and manage meta communication: your facial expressions, body language, and nonverbal signals.
Good connection equals happiness. Your responsibility lies in maintaining your relationships. A little maintenance in the areas outlined above goes a long way. Feeling connected is critical for well-being and it enables you to reach your greatest potential.