This is the advice was drummed into me as a trainee celebrant learning to do pre-marriage counselling. It is a fairly idealistic sort of statement and I’m sure could be debated long and hard – however it does identify two extremely important aspects of a good marriage – or for that matter a good relationship of any kind.
I think communication skills and conflict resolution skills are vital in friendships, business partnerships, client relationships etc.
I’m also coming to see their importance in blogging and today I want to tackle the first of them – communication skills (tomorrow I’ll look at conflict resolution).
Communication Skills in Blogging
I should clarify at this point that I’m not talking about communication skills in terms of how to write effectively (I’ve covered this elsewhere and would hope bloggers have a reasonable grasp of it already). Instead, for the purposes of this post, I’m referring to relational communication skills – something that I think that even the best bloggers struggle with.
I find it a little ironic that we as bloggers (who are in the communication business) struggle with miscommunication between us so often. One just has to cast their mind back to the last comment flame war that they observed (or participated in) to find an example of it. Most niches have these all in brawls from time to time.
While in some cases – the conflict can be over ideological differences of opinions, a lot of them come down to poor communication skills.
Skills for Effective Communication
There are two main skills that I teach couples in pre marriage counselling sessions. Both are equally important and without either one a relationship suffers:
the ability to say (or write) what you feel, think and need.
Being able to clearly put into words what you mean is one half of the equation when it comes to communication and is a real skill that needs to be learned and practices. If you can do this there is every chance that the other person/people will know what you are trying to say and will then be in a position to respond to that in a well informed manner.
A number of points are worth making under the heading of assertiveness:
- Assertiveness doesn’t equal Aggression - it’s possible to be assertive without being aggressive. My dictionary defines ‘assertive’ as ‘confident in stating your position or claim‘. One of the common problems in comment flame wars is that the confidence to state a case becomes an arrogance and the lines between arguing about the topic and attacking the person taking an opposing position become blurred.
- Reading Minds is for Dummies – I often find that when counselling couples that there is an assumption by one that the other one knows what they mean and as a result they don’t ever say what they mean. Unpack it and there’s some bizarre assumption that they can read each other’s minds – something that to my knowledge most of us have not perfected.
- The use of ‘I’ and ‘You’ Statements – A common problem in communication is slipping into making ‘You’ statements rather than ‘I’ statements. People who make ‘I’ statements take responsibility for for their messages and the tone of what they say tend to be more constructive and less accusatory. ‘You’ statements on the other often are quite accusing and attempt to shift blame. The problem with ‘You’ statements is that they don’t leave the other person with much room to manoeuvre and unless they are very controlled they will respond with their own ‘You’ statement – and the cycle continues as things degenerate into an exchanged based around personal attack.
the ability to hear what the other person is saying and being able to reflect it back to them.
Good communication is not just about what you say – but what you hear. Active listening is an essential part of the process and without it there is little chance of a constructive outcome. In my experience this is where a lot of blogging conflict comes from as I see a lot of people responding to one another who have clearly not read and understood the thoughts of the other person.
Active listening involves two main things:
- Listening attentively without interruption – obviously blogging is a different case to verbal communication – but the principle still applies. In blogging I would say that this involves fully reading the post/comments of the other person before responding (not just looking at the title and skimming the headings). I find that a lot of comments left on blogs clearly demonstrate that people don’t read full posts. At times this can be a result of poor writing, but often it’s a result of laziness of the reader.
- Being able to restate what you’ve heard the other person say – once again this is a challenge for blogging as it’s not an immediate/real time medium – however it’s important as it ensures that both parties are actually talking about the same thing or not. Actively restating what you’ve heard the other person say helps you to know what their true message is but also helps them to know how they are coming across. Often in the restating of what someone else has said a conflict can be resolved as parties realise they’re on the same page.
Once you’ve actively listened to the other person it’s your turn to to assertively (not aggressively) say what you think, feel or need while the other person actively listens. Usually after a round or three of this style of communication things will be resolved.
Two Way Street – it takes two to have a constructive conversation and the above process is of course much more difficult if only one party is willing to engage with it.
Having said that, we each have to take responsibility for our own actions and parts of relationships and I find that even when I’m attempting to communicate with someone who is not willing to actively listen that doing it myself can actually go a long way to resolving an issue.
Tomorrow I’ll examine the other essential skill for relationships – Conflict Resolution.
PS: Nice post on Active Listening here.