Have you ever been in a relationship where everything felt so good? Communication is effortless, and
you feel like you can conquer the world together. Then something happens - maybe a disagreement
about something small or a misunderstanding that spirals out of control. Suddenly that perfect
relationship seems to be crumbling apart.
Whether you have a friendship on the fritz or multiple you'd generally like to strengthen,
communication is the place to start. As colleagues, family members, lovers, or friends, there will
always be qualities and similarities that bring us together. But good communication is the glue that
keeps us that way. Less like superglue and more like Elmer's, it's something we craft over time to
create relationships we love to be a part of.
Listen without judgment
How often in conversations do you listen without judgment? This includes listening without judgment
or interruption. If you think about it, interruption is just another form of judgment, like you're waiting to
impose your opinion on the other person.
We often get so wrapped up waiting for our turn to speak that we don't hear what the other person is
saying. Try to clear your mind and listen to what they're saying without thinking about how you'll
respond or what you'll say next. This can be particularly difficult if you have differing opinions, but it will go a long way in improving communication if you can try to see things another way.
Have compassion (open your heart and mind)
When communicating with someone, it's important to be open-minded and compassionate. Opening
your heart and mind means understanding where they're coming from and why they might feel that
way. If you can approach the conversation with empathy, it will help to improve communication
Expressing curiosity is one understated way to cultivate compassion. Ask them if you're unsure about
what they mean or want to know more about their thoughts on a certain subject!
Asking questions not only shows that you're interested in understanding where they're coming from.
More importantly, it helps you genuinely understand. It can also help avoid miscommunications since
you can clarify anything you're unsure about.
Be assertive (not aggressive)
There is a critical difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Assertiveness is the
ability to express yourself clearly and confidently without putting down or attacking another person.
Confrontation can quickly escalate a situation and make communication even more difficult.
A good rule of thumb is to use "I" statements, such as "I feel ____ when you ____ ." This is one way
to express your feelings without attacking or placing blame on the other person. For example, "I feel
hurt when you don't acknowledge something I've said."
Put yourself in the other person's shoes
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Putting yourself in
another's shoes is the practice of cultivating empathy.
Remember that everyone – including you - has different perspectives based on their beliefs,
experiences, values, etc. Visualize yourself in their situation, not only seeing but feeling things from
their point of view. What may seem apparent to you might not be as obvious to them, and vice versa.
In any relationship, it's important to set boundaries. This includes setting limits on what you're willing
and not willing to do. It includes what you will and will not tolerate from the other person. For example,
if you're feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of, it might be time to set some boundaries.
It's okay to say no, and it's important to communicate your needs to the other person. If you're not
comfortable with something, it's worth enduring the initial discomfort to speak up about it. That said,
boundaries can be difficult, but they're necessary for doing what's best for you and maintaining
One key to setting boundaries is honesty. Behind every successfully maintained boundary is honesty
between two people – an ongoing reciprocity of communication and acceptance. Behind the need for
boundaries is a sense of honesty about what you need.
Improve your communication, improve your relationships
If the complex and ever-changing nature of relationships exemplifies one thing, it's that
communication, too, can evolve. Communication may be the one deeply-rooted quality in all
relationships, but those who intentionally improve it will cultivate better relationships as a matter of