Five Ways to Keep Communication Strong When Times are Tough
Good communication, even during the best of times can be challenging. Nearly all of us bring bad habits, fears, insecurities, anxieties, and “baggage” to our communication styles, no matter how well things are going in our lives. When the going gets rough, though, it can be harder than ever to maintain healthful communication. Job loss, illness, a new baby, caring for elderly parents, and financial troubles are just a few of the many stressors that can strain communication.
Keep communication strong even during trying times by keeping in mind the following:
Face That It Won’t Be Easy
Acknowledge, with your partner or family members, that together you’re facing stressful circumstances. Ignoring that, shrugging it off, or attempting to minimize ill effects won’t help. Recognize that the strong emotions, fatigue, worry, and other effects of the situation at hand may interfere with communication. Agree to renew and redouble your commitment to healthful communication.
Listen More Than You Speak
A primary goal of communication is to understand. To understand, you must listen. A cardinal rule of good communication, therefore, is to listen more than you speak. Of course, we also long to be understood, which is why it’s so easy to talk a blue streak while the other person does all the listening. To keep the lines of communication open and clear, remember to listen actively. Respectfully restate the other person’s words and emotions, listen openly, ready to accept whatever the speaker says. Try not to let yourself get distracted by imagining what you will say when it’s your turn to speak. Remember: you want them to extend the same courtesy when you speak.
During discussions, stick to the issue at hand and be specific about the problem or emotions you need to examine. Avoid bringing up old hurts or rehashing unrelated arguments. During times of high emotion it can be easy to start picking at old wounds, because one emotional upset tends to stir up all the others. If necessary, agree to set aside a separate time for an “airing of the grievances”. Then, take a deep breath, clear your head, and resume the current discussion.
Apply the Fundamentals
Hard times are no time to dispense with the basics. (Is there ever a right time to do that?) Continue to communicate your appreciation for the actions of those around you. Say “please” and “thank you”. Tell them, “I love you”. Continue to let loved ones know that they matter to you, no matter the stress levels or extra demands on your time, attention, and energy.
Remember That 93% of Communication is Nonverbal
That means most communication is happening without a word being spoken. Observe the body language, tone, gesture, posture, and eye contact of your spouse, partner, or family member. You can use this information to decide whether it’s time to check in with them about how they are doing, give them some space, or inquire whether there’s something they may be feeling or thinking but not saying.
Are his or her body language and words congruous? Or do they say, “I’m fine” with crossed arms, red face, and flaring nostrils? Do be aware of your own body language as well—is it signaling to others “stay away,” “I’ve had enough,” or “I’m ready to talk”?
It’s also a good time to communicate your love, affection, and support nonverbally—hugs, pats on the back, and hand holding can tell those around you that you care and are there for them, as well as help to calm you both.
Any habits and practices that strengthen and improve your communication during happy times are important to continue during tough times. It may take some intentional measures (such as those mentioned above), though, to ensure your communication stays strong.