Communication – Back to the Basics

How to Talk Effectively with Your Partner, Children, Friends, and Coworkers

by Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator


When it comes to communication tools, sometimes knowing the “correct” or “fancy” ways to phrase things can be fun and empowering. But for any tool to be most helpful, you also need to be knowledgeable about the basics. Think of it like any other learned skill. Take dancing for example: in order to become proficient in any type of dance, you have to first learn the basic steps. Then, and only then, can you really master the most flashy and complicated steps. Here are some communication basics to always keep in mind:


  • If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.
    • Most of us were taught this idea when we were young. Our parents or guardians would instruct us that we should not be mean or say hurtful things, and that as a simple rule, we should not say anything if it wasn’t nice. I believe this is a good, basic communication tool for us as adults as well. It can be very hurtful and damaging when we criticize our children, friends, or our partner. In these relationships, especially with our partner or spouse, we are closer and more vulnerable than we are with others. Therefore, we have more power to do real emotional harm when we criticize and use put-downs. This doesn’t mean you should avoid conflict, but that you should simply table the discussion if all you want to do is attack.


  • Speak for yourself.
    • Speaking for yourself simply means to talk about what you know for sure. In any given situation, you will never know with 100% certainty what your partner is thinking/feeling. Sure, you may have a good guess, but to be safe and fair in a conversation, when you talk about your experience, your feelings, and your thoughts, things go more smoothly. When we guess, assume, or accuse, we immediately put our partner on the defensive.


  • Actions speak louder than words.
    • It is easy to think about how to say and word things when talking about “communication,” but the truth is, most of our communication is non-verbal. Think about what your body language, your facial expressions, and gestures are telling your partner. Are you interested? Are you showing respect and love? Think about not only what your words are saying, but what your body is saying.  It can be easy for us to try and “multi-task,” and look at our phones, tablets, or televisions, or try and do other things while we’re trying to talk to someone important.  Make sure you show your partner, child, friend, or coworker that you are listening and that you care.  Take the time to face one another and really listen.


  • Aim to understand, not necessarily to agree.
    • We will differ in our opinions from our partner or family members – and that is okay. Different ideas can make for an exciting conversation if they are handled respectfully. If you constantly try to convince your partner to agree with you, this mindset only breeds pressure and hostility.  Instead, try and aim to help him or her understand your point of view.  Thinking, “it’s my way or the highway,” will only stir bitterness. Try to put yourself in the other’s shoes and see his or her point of view as well! Deeper more intimate conversations will only happen when we respectfully explore our partner’s world, not when we attack his or her different ideas.


  • Be curious!
    • Improving our communication not only means learning and practicing tools that help us talk about difficult or negative topics; we should also learn how to improve our positive conversations as well.  Simply being curious about the person you are talking to will change the way your conversation goes. Curiosity sparks more questions, and encourages us to deepen our understanding of our partner, children, friends, and colleagues.  A study published by the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that long-term couples were sometimes less likely to know their partner’s preferences than couples who had only been married for a couple of years.  This information suggests that we need to keep learning about one another!  We are always growing, changing, and experiencing new things; just because we’ve known someone for a long time doesn’t mean we can’t learn something new, or have an interesting discussion.


To see Audrey discuss these points in Fox 10 News, click here!


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