How can I encourage more open communication with people?
January 2, 2013 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Help with encouraging communication early in a relationship?

As someone who is both introverted and shy, and who tends to be slow to trust people with my uncensored opinions (especially feelings), how can I counteract this tendency when dating people? Or even with new potential friends, for that matter.

I would like to get to the point where I can comfortably initiate conversations about things like sex preferences, relationship needs, things that are personally important to me, things that are bothering me, etc. I will typically answer these honestly when asked directly, but that rarely happens, and I'd like to get to the point where I can just bring up these deeper topics without that fear of being judged or causing awkwardness. I know that this improves as you get to know each other better, but I'd like to accelerate the process and make sure it doesn't stall, since it's particularly difficult for me. I'm not worried about going overboard and over-sharing, since I'm so far on the opposite side and I have the social skills to recognize which topics I should and shouldn't be discussing (I think, anyway!)'s the actual initiating discussion part where I get stalled.

I know it's possible because I've had one relationship (now friendship) and another friendship where we have that connection, but I was never able to get there in my last (>3 year) relationship despite significant efforts on my part (none on his). A relevant difference may be that the "communicative" relationships began as close friends whereas the "non-communicative" one began as a hookup. Ignoring whether it's a good idea to start relationships as a hookup (please) do you have any tips for promoting more open communication with new people, especially when the other person is quiet as well and conversation is still a bit awkward? General mindset kinds of tips are good but concrete suggestions and examples would be even better!
posted by randomnity to Human Relations (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm very introverted, and in a relationship with someone who's even more so. Early on, I sat down with him and said that it was important to me to keep communication open, and that talking stuff out was very important to me.

Whenever I want to talk about something difficult (for me) to bring up, I give myself permission to say, "I feel awkward talking about this, but I think it's important..." and go from there. It's helped quite a bit, and my partner has done the same with me.
posted by xingcat at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You answered your own question here.

''I will typically answer these honestly when asked directly..."

Ask questions. Read "How To Win Friends and Influence People" for some insight on how to do this. It mostly reduces down to being genuinely curious about other people. Just reading your question with a critical eye you'll see that it is almost 100% inwardly focused on you and your desires. Focus on your partner's (or friend's) needs and interests and the whole communication thing gets a lot easier.
posted by COD at 10:30 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was never able to get there in my last (>3 year) relationship despite significant efforts on my part (none on his).

I'm not sure it's a good idea to become the sole person who "handles communication" in a relationship. If your partner can't meet you somewhere near the halfway point, then it's a reciprocation problem, not a communication problem. If you position yourself as the responsible, conscientious person, I think you risk the possibility of attracting people who don't put any thought or energy into the relationship.

So my thinking (being a rather shy person myself) is that it's great to ask important questions. Other people by and large don't bite, and it really helps to know if they do. On the other hand, you're not interviewing for the privilege of sharing your partner's company. It's a give-and-take, not a give-and-give-and-give.
posted by Nomyte at 10:39 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

My quiet guy and I do better in written forms. So when we were in our initial "hey, I think I'm in love with you, let's talk about big stuff" stage, we sent each other a bunch of emails with questions, some of them sort of silly about favorite books or whatever, others of the deeper, more personal kind about family and relationships and values. We usually answered the question from our point of view when sending it, too, thereby opening with some vulnerability and trust.

We're better at talking now, but having had the time to write and think about our answers to each other made me a lot more comfortable.
posted by ldthomps at 10:54 AM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I used to be very bad at talking about myself and could be very guarded. Making yourself vulnerable by opening yourself up and talking frankly and honestly about yourself can be very frightening. When I was 19 I realised that other people find it equally hard to do so and that if more people spoke openly about things that they would then carry less stigma. I made a promise to myself that if I ever felt I could help someone by being honest about my feelings, problems I'd had or mistakes I'd made that I would talk about them.

It does place you in a very vulnerable position. Yet I've come to learn over the years that emotional vulnerability actually places you in a very strong position. Firstly if you are willing to talk about your feelings and mistakes then no one can use them against you. You also uncover the people who are likely to try to use stuff like that against you very early on, enabling you to remove them from your life. It's also a wonderful gift to give other people, as you're basically saying you trust them with feelings etc. I've found that when you talk to people about your experiences that they then feel able to talk to you about theirs without worry. I've had discussions with other people about things that have affected their lives and made them the person they are, I always feel very honoured to know that people are able to talk to me like that.

It can also make others feel valued if you discuss problems etc with them. I've discovered that over the last few months, as I've been dealing with a difficult situation. I've actually become friends with a co-worker that I would never have expected a friendship to develop with. She's been a God send over the months, and when she was struggling I was able to be there for her. I also used to feel like I shouldn't ask people questions as they'd think I was prying. The fact is it just shows you're interested in them and want to know about them.

I've also learnt in the last year that people like listening to other people talking, especially if they're passionate about something. Often in the last year I've been discussing my ideas, hobbies etc with people I know. I noticed they weren't saying much and initially worried I was boring them, however it was actually because they were interested in hearing what I had to say. I was shocked when someone said he thought I was charismatic because of all the things I'd done and could talk about. It was such a revaltion that people enjoyed listening to me and it's helping me to reach out to people more.

As Nomyte says you don't want to be the only person doing the communicating in a relationship. I've been there and it wasn't successful. Also as Idthomps suggests there's always emails, letters etc. Though after a misunderstanding due to an email a couple of months ago I'd suggest being there when the recipient reads it. That way you can answer any questions immediately and clear up any misunderstandings or confusion.

It does take time and courage to open yourself up more and make yourself vulnerable, however it's definitely worth taking the time to do.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 12:22 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Buy this book and go through it together.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:43 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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