The Magical Ingredient to Good Communication

Have you ever found yourself in a “discussion” with your spouse where one of you is doing all of the arguing – er, I mean “discussing?” You find yourself criticizing and complaining, and you wonder how this all came about, when your intention had been to have a productive, positive discussion about something?

Well – this has happened to me, and it’s happened to people I know, and not just in marriages.

I’d like to shed some light on this particular phenomenon.

It’s all about communication, of course.

That sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? We all know that the secret to a good relationship is communication, right? We begin talking in babyhood, and during our entire lives we are communicating.

So, if that’s all that there is to communication, why do marriage counselors make a fortune helping couples to communicate better? Why do experts write such confusing books about the different ways men and women communicate?

Is something so basic really so complicated and hard to understand? Is good communication in a marriage really so elusive?

I believe the trick to doing most things well in life is to start with the simplest factors. When something as native to humans as communication goes awry, it may be that one of the basic ingredients is missing.

What are the elements to communication, anyway?

Well, let’s take Cindy and Joe, for an example. Cindy is upset that Joe didn’t pick up his dirty socks again. She tells Joe that it’s upset her. Joe hears what she’s saying and feels bad about it, and decides to remember to put his socks in the laundry hamper next time.

Some people think this is all that there is to communication. One person has a thought, puts it in words to the other person. The other receives the communication. After all, this is how we get communication from advertisers, right? We see the ad on tv, or in a magazine, the idea is expressed, and we receive it. Nothing more to it!

Or is there?

Let’s look at how this conversation can go between Cindy and Joe:

Cindy: “Joe, you left your socks on the floor again.”

Joe makes no response. After all, he’s watching the game, and doesn’t want to get into a long conversation, but he thinks he’ll remember next time to not leave his dirty socks lying around.

Cindy: “You know, I keep the hamper next to the bedroom door. Just put your socks in there.”

Again, no response. Yes, he will remember next time, he’s sure of it.

Have you ever found yourself in a “discussion” with your spouse where one of you is doing all of the arguing – er, I mean “discussing”? You find yourself criticizing and complaining, and you wonder how this all came about, when your intention had been to have a productive, positive discussion about something?

Well – this has happened to me, and it’s happened to people I know, and not just in marriages.

I’d like to shed some light on this particular phenomenon.

It’s all about communication, of course.

That sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? We all know that the secret to a good relationship is communication, right? We begin talking in babyhood, and during our entire lives we are communicating.

So, if that’s all that there is to communication, why do marriage counselors make a fortune helping couples to communicate better? Why do experts write such confusing books about the different ways men and women communicate?

Is something so basic really so complicated and hard to understand? Is good communication in a marriage really so elusive?

I believe the trick to doing most things well in life is to start with the simplest factors. When something as native to humans as communication goes awry, it may be that one of the basic ingredients is missing.

What are the elements to communication, anyway?

Well, let’s take Cindy and Joe, for an example. Cindy is upset that Joe didn’t pick up his dirty socks again. She tells Joe that it’s upset her. Joe hears what she’s saying and feels bad about it, and decides to remember to put his socks in the laundry hamper next time.

Some people think this is all that there is to communication. One person has a thought, puts it in words to the other person. The other receives the communication. After all, this is how we get communication from advertisers, right? We see the ad on tv, or in a magazine, the idea is expressed, and we receive it. Nothing more to it!

Or is there?

Let’s look at how this conversation can go between Cindy and Joe:

Cindy: “Joe, you left your socks on the floor again.”

Joe makes no response. After all, he’s watching the game, and doesn’t want to get into a long conversation, but he thinks he’ll remember next time to not leave his dirty socks lying around.

Cindy: “You know, I keep the hamper next to the bedroom door. Just put your socks in there.”

Again, no response. Yes, he will remember next time, he’s sure of it.

Cindy: “I’m tired when I get home from work, you know, and don’t like picking up your socks!”

Joe says nothing – of course she doesn’t like to pick up his socks, but if she left them, he’d remember to pick them up eventually.

Cindy: “I don’t know what you think – perhaps you think I’m your maid or something!”

Joe doesn’t answer – he knows where this conversation is headed now, and maybe if he ignores her, she’ll calm down and let him watch the game!

But Cindy doesn’t calm down and she doesn’t go away – now she’s feeling angry and unappreciated. “I don’t know why I bother! I think you’d rather live in a pigsty! I bring home half the money, I don’t see why I have to be the maid!!!”

The longer Joe goes without acknowledging Cindy, the more she actually craves his acknowledgement and the harder she’ll try to MAKE him acknowledge her!

She may even end up saying things to him just to get a rise out of him, because if he at least yells back at her, she’ll know he finally heard her.

The next thing you know, Cindy is talking about going home to her mother, and Joe is sleeping on the sofa.

The “conversation” simply degrades as Cindy communicates, and Joe receives her communication, but fails to let her know. This leaves Cindy frustrated and feeling unloved, and Joe absolutely bewildered about how leaving his dirty socks on the floor could be so terrible that Cindy is talking about leaving him!

They could end up feeling they are “incompatible” when that could be the furthest thing from the truth. They simply don’t fully understand the art of communication!

You see, one person communicating a thought, and the recipient understanding the communication is only half of the recipe.

The second half of the recipe is when Joe lets Cindy know he heard her and understood her communication. He doesn’t have to agree with her! But he does need to let her know that her communication was received and understood by him.

Here’s how the above scenario could have gone with proper communication:

Cindy: “Joe, you left your dirty socks on the floor again.”

Joe: “Did I? I’m sorry. I’ll try to remember to put them in the hamper next time.”

Cindy: “Okay, but I’m tired of picking them up.”

Joe: “I can understand that. I’ll try to remember, and thanks for reminding me.”

That’s it! Joe watches his game, and Cindy feels acknowledged, and Joe doesn’t have to sleep on the sofa that night!

Good acknowledgment actually works like magic, and not just in marriages. It is a basic rule to any good, productive relationship.

I’ve seen it with my children, many times. Every time I find them in an argument, I find lack of proper acknowledgement as the culprit.

If the argument doesn’t resolve without help, and the kids look like they’re cooking up an all-out war, I step in.

Mom: “Billy, what were you trying to tell John?”

Billy: “Well, he said I couldn’t use his truck, but I let him use my Spiderman and that’s not fair!”

Mom: “John, did you understand what Billy was saying?”

John: “Yeah, but he said…”

Mom: “Wait just a minute, John. I want to make sure that YOU understood what BILLY was saying.”

John: “Yeah, I understood him.”

Mom: “Okay, tell Billy you understood him.”

John (grumbling): “Billy, I understood what you said.”

Mom: “Okay, Billy, did you get that?”

Billy: “Yeah, I got it.”

Mom: “Okay, now Billy, what did you want to say to John?”

Billy: “I was trying to tell him that he could use my truck after I parked it in the toy garage first. I just wanted to finish parking it.”

Then I make sure John understood Billy, and I have him make sure Billy knows he was understood.

This may sound silly – but trust me, it works! Like MAGIC.

So, you might ask how this applies to getting along with your spouse.

These days, when I find myself nagging my husband, my volume and ire rising, I remember this aspect of good communication and stop – often in the middle of some awful thing I started to say.

“Honey, you’re not acknowledging me!” I tell my husband. “I’m talking and talking, and you’re not letting me know that you have heard me!”

He looks bewildered for a moment, and then realizes that yes, he had not acknowledged my communication.

We go back to the point in the conversation where he failed to acknowledge my communication and the conversation started to go off the rails. He lets me know that he did indeed understand me, or he asks for clarification if there was something he didn’t understand about what I was saying.

Maybe he disagrees with me, and then he communicates that. At that point, we are on the way to resolving the disagreement.

We have recently worked through some long-standing disagreements this way! We found that there were certain subjects that, whenever we began discussing them, he’d automatically stop acknowledging me. Once we really spotted this, and he really started acknowledging me, we were actually able to work through the problem, come up with a solution, and there you have it! The long-standing problem was smoothly resolved to a good result!

And I, in turn, am working on remembering to acknowledge the children. Where my husband has a habit of not acknowledging me, I have had a tendency to forget to acknowledge the kids. They are much happier when they know I have heard them!

The next time you find yourself in an angry conversation with your spouse, take a look and see if the acknowledgements are happening, or if one (or both) of you are forgetting the secret ingredient.

It’s Magic!


 

This article was written by Jane James. Additional information can be found at the blog: Marriage Success and in the book: When the Thrill Is Gone. You may republish this article in your newsletter or at your web site or blog providing the entire article is kept intact, including the contact links.