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When I first begin working with a client they will very often tell me that one of the areas in their lives where they experience difficulty is in their close relationships.
Whether that’s friendship, family relationships or with our partner, if we’re feeling stressed or anxious it will very often feel as though our relationships are one of the causes. Unfortunately, although we all want to feel heard, understood and loved as we are it can often feel as though this isn’t this case, and we can get into patterns of blaming, accusing, labelling and judging which complicate our relationships and make us feel disconnected from the people we should feel close to.

I help clients to move past negative beliefs and unhelpful thinking so they can approach their relationships with more ease and clarity – however there are some simple tips from ‘Non Violent Communication’ that you can make right now to help you have more positive and productive conversations….

– decide on a pre agreed time and place to talk where you won’t be disturbed, and when you’re both calm, rested and can focus on the conversation

– agree that you won’t interrupt each other whilst the other is speaking

– listen to understand rather than listening to respond (empathic listening rather than defensive listening)
– establish what you would both like to achieve or improve going forward. Keep these aims positive – think about what
you do want rather than what you don’t want
(for example to feel more connected, to understand each other better, to feel heard and acknowledged)

– discuss the reasons that you want these outcomes – if these things improved, how would it benefit you as individuals and how would it benefit your relationship?

– understand that for communication, and the relationship as a whole to genuinely improve, there needs to be equal commitment to improving how you communicate. It shouldn’t be seen as something that one of you wants which the other is simply ‘going along with’ – this is about working towards a happier life for both of you after all! Communication is as much about listening to understand the other person’s feelings as it is expressing your own perspectives and feelings. Put your own needs, wants, beliefs and opinions to one side and listen to the other person with compassion. When you both have your attention on your own needs and opinions, communication quickly breaks down. When you put ‘what you think’ to one side and focus on the other person’s feelings, it builds empathy, understanding, connection and facilitates better communication.

Using Non Violent Communication

Once you have agreed on the framework, consider how your communication could be improved. Look at following the principles of NVC (Non Violent Communication), which focuses on changing your language to avoid accusation, attack, blame, shaming and defensiveness. When we resort to these tactics there’s no way forward as both parties get stuck in opposing positions and a battle of ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’

– express an observation of something that’s causing a problem and the feeling you get, without blaming or shaming the other person (“when X happens I feel Y” rather than “you always do X and you make me feel Y”)

– when the other person is expressing that observation/feeling – listen to understand how they feel. If you feel the urge to reject or deny it, recognise that can only come from taking it personally. Remember that this isn’t about you – it’s about them being able to be honest and to express what’s going on for them without blame.

– once that person has expressed the observation and feeling, they can make a request of the other person. Keep it positive. Ask for what you would like instead, or how you would like the behaviour to change.

– you can then create an agreement for dealing with things differently – the other person responding to that request. It’s far easier for someone to respond positively to a request for change than to be accused of a wrongdoing and blamed for causing the other person’s pain. The aim here is to facilitate a productive new way of communication, to help both parties to take responsibility for their behaviour and to understand how and why it makes sense to address and change it

These aren’t hard and fast ‘rules’, and I would suggest using them as a basis for a discussion about setting your own framework together so that you’ve co created it and both feel that you have equal ownership.