How do you communicate? Are you soft-spoken or loud? Do you tend to shy away from conflict or embrace it wholeheartedly? Has anybody ever described you as sarcastic? When you are angry, are you more likely to fly off the handle or wait until you are calm to address the issue?
The way you communicate with your spouse, family, friends and co-workers dramatically impacts the quality of your relationships. It has the ability to shut down communication or to encourage it.
Based on decades of research, Dr. John Gottman has discovered four common communication styles that can really damage relationships.
1. Harsh startup – Whether at work or at home, a tendency to attack someone verbally while you are upset with them is considered a harsh startup and usually shuts down communication immediately.
2. Flooding – Have you ever felt your heart race, your blood pressure rise, your muscles tense and your body break into a sweat when trying to communicate with someone? Gottman refers to this as “flooding.” It is impossible to think and react rationally in this state. Consequently, discussion at this time usually escalates uncontrollably with no resolution.
3. Body Language – Here, Gottman is referring to eye-rolling, heavy sighs and what many call “the look.” Those are things your teen does that get on your last nerve, but they are not things you would typically expect from an adult.
4. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which involves:
Criticism – Blaming, using negative labels to attack a person’s character, and fault-finding.
Contempt - Lack of respect for a person’s dignity, an attitude of superiority, mockery and hostile humor. As a result, communication is condescending and demeaning.
Defensiveness – Refuses to take responsibility, will not admit their role in a situation, and deflects complaints back on the other person, as in: “it’s your fault.”
Stonewalling – Also known as the silent treatment. Stubbornly refusing to give any verbal or non-verbal feedback that they are listening or attending to what the other person is saying.
If you are seeking to have healthy communication with the people in your life, try these strategies.
Be intentional and specific. Ask for a good, undistracted time to talk. While you may want to discuss many things, choose only one thing and stick to it.
Listen without being defensive. After you have shared, listen to their response without planning your defense at the same time. It's impossible for your brain to do two things at once.
Avoid mind-reading. Everybody knows the old saying about assumptions. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can read someone’s mind.
Express negative feelings constructively. You can talk about hard topics without being ugly and tearing somebody down. Choose your words and your tone carefully.
Don’t withhold the positive. Even in the most difficult circumstances, you can often communicate something positive.
When it comes to communication, people want emotional safety, whether it is spouse to spouse, parent to child or co-worker to supervisor relationships. It is possible to talk with someone about a very complicated situation without destroying them. So, if your goal is to win, have the last word or prove you are right, you might need to ask yourself exactly what you hope to accomplish.