Working Out the Workout
Six Keys To Better Communication
Kick back, it’s the end of the season and you’re reflecting on your triumphs and glories. It’s time to chill until next season—NOT. Yes this is a time to relax and take a breather; but it is also time for you to begin thinking about your goals and dreams for next season. Before you start out on the journey to new milestones and accomplishments, take time during the off-season to insure that you arrive there with the people and relationships that you value still intact. Whether the relationship is with your spouse, your partner, your training buddy or coach, your overall performance next season will benefit from improving your communication skills.
Effective communication is often overlooked as a means of enhancing performance. Yet in a 1987 survey of sport psychologists working with Olympic athletes, five out of the top ten problems most commonly addressed related to communication. When there is conflict and discord in the relationship with your significant other, your immune system falters and you are more likely to come down with a cold. Studies with cardiac rehab patients have shown that a spouse’s attitude towards an exercise program may actually be more important than the patient’s in determining whether or not the patient sticks to an exercise plan. My twenty years of clinical experience working with couples has repeatedly shown that one person heading solo down a path involving time, energy and effort without consulting the other partner, is a recipe for chaos. By taking time to hone your communication skills and following these six guidelines, many (if not all) of these difficulties can be avoided.
Timing is everything
As simple as it sounds, the first step is both parties agreeing to communicate. This means setting aside a time that you can sit down, eliminate distractions, and devote your undivided attention to the communication process. In deciding when to talk, remember there are times when it is best to keep your HAT on and postpone efforts: don’t try to force communication when either one of you are Hungry, Angry or Tired.
Choose a place to talk where you both can sit down. Sitting can change the entire tone of a conversation as most arguments occur when people are standing up.
As to location, I advise people to select a place other than the bedroom for serious conversations. There are better things to do in the bedroom than attempting to settle differences.
Know Where You’re Going
Often I encounter couples who say, “the problem is that we see things differently.” This is not a problem, it is a given. Every person brings a unique perspective to any situation. The key to successfully dealing with these differences is establishing a common goal. All too often people focus all their attention on the areas of disagreement, rather than building on the shared elements. You and your spouse, partner or coach are in the same boat; you will get to your destination more effectively if you paddle in coordination and concert with one another.
Listen to Be Heard
As paradoxical as it may seem, the best way to have another person understand your point of view is for you to start by listening. Stephen Covey in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People refers to this as “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” Ask you partner about what is important to him or her. The goal at this stage is understanding, rather than agreement. Understanding acknowledges the other’s perspective, it does not mean that you share that perspective. Focus not only on the details that your partner may be expressing but also the feelings and emotions that are accompanying those issues.
Listen to the entire message that the person is expressing before responding back. Make certain that your understanding is accurate by checking it out with the person: “Let me see that I’ve got it straight… it’s not so much that you mind my training, but when I stop doing the yardwork on the weekends you feel like I’m dumping on you. Is that right?”
Slow the process down, especially when dealing with volatile areas. Remember that if two people are talking at the same time at least one of them is not listening. Don’t fall into the trap of hearing only part of what the other is saying and then tuning out as you mentally prepare your rebuttal. Listen. Check it out. Then respond.
Use “I” statements
You are the world’s greatest expert on two topics: what you feel and what you want. If you keep your focus on these two areas you will be safe. Claiming expertise in other areas, (especially implying that you have a greater knowledge of truth, reality and the way that the world should be), implies that the other is clearly lacking and is an invitation for disaster. Rather than “You need to be more supportive!” (Translated: I am the expert on proper roles in the world and you are a pinhead); shift it to your area of undisputed expertise: “I really would like more of your support.”
Work towards solutions
Turn any criticism into a request. The criticism is looking backward and invites defensiveness; the request is moving toward a solution. When describing something that is a source of irritation or concern, be as neutral as possible. Merely depict the actions that occurred, making a point not to imply what the person intended. For example, rather than by saying “When you ignored me…” (which implies what the person intended to do); simply state the actions “When you turned on the television while I was talking…”
Practice, Practice, Practice
It may seem awkward at first, but good communication is a learned skill. Just as it takes time concentration and effort to improve your swim technique, the same applies to your communication skills. Practice, follow these keys, and before you know it, you’ll be talking to your partner about the great season you are having.
© Copywrite 1999, Dr. Charlie Brown. All rights reserved.