Advice for effective communication?
October 14, 2006 9:17 PM   Subscribe

Whenever a relationship question is asked, it seems like the answer is always "communicate". Talk to the person, explain what's wrong, establish the communication barrier. I'm not saying the answer is wrong - after all, it's a requisite answer for a reason - but surely, it's easier said than done?

So Hive Mind, what advice can you share on tackling difficult issues, be it with friends, family, or partners? Do you sit down and make them realize you need to talk, or do you segue into it casually? Do you think about it ahead of time, plan the topics and consider your points carefully, or do you start off on a tangent and say whatever comes in your mind?
posted by Phire to Human Relations (12 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
My parents have set aside a specific time every week to sit down and listen to each other. They don't try to hash the issues through right there, they just take time to say where they're at and what they're thinking, and the other person just hears it. After they've both said what's on their mind, then they talk about it.

They've been doing this for 20 years now, and it seems to work pretty well for them.
posted by tkolar at 10:17 PM on October 14, 2006 [3 favorites]

Be a little meta about what you are doing -- set a time limit for example, so if one person is less comfortable with it then they know it WILL end. SOme people like to talk it to death, others in bits and pieces. Its important to compromise on the structure of the talking, as well as the substance.

Of course I just had my LTR blown up last week so this is maybe not tried-and-tested advice.
posted by Rumple at 10:24 PM on October 14, 2006

Best answer: I read this book and found that it had really good advice for awkward/uncomfortable situations:

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most

It was especially helpful for thinking about your conversation from the other person's point of view and really putting yourself in their shoes.
posted by cadge at 10:44 PM on October 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry to hear that, Rumple, seems it was a bad week for LTRs... mine decomposed as well.

Communication *is* the key. You can figure almost anything out (including if you're not meant to be together!) by talking. And yes, it's easier said than done... what were you looking for, a magic bullet? Just about every advice you get given that's worth it's salt is easier said than done.
posted by SpecialK at 10:50 PM on October 14, 2006

It hadn't quite progressed to LTR status yet, but mine blew up a couple of weeks ago (no time or space for a relationship right now, she said) and today she told me that she had started seeing a friend of mine. I introduced them, actually.

So, yeah. Communication is key.
posted by emelenjr at 2:25 AM on October 15, 2006

As frustrating as this answer may be, it really depends on the person and the situation. Sometimes, the opportunity will simply present itself, and the conversation will naturally flow into the more serious area. Other times, though, the issue is the big elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, and it is necessary for one party to directly confront it, while minimizing the chances of the other party somehow weaseling their way out. Either way, Rumple has a good idea about setting a time limit, so you don't just end up talking yourselves into endless circles or stretching out tension.

If it's a big issue, thinking it out ahead of time is probably a good plan. You don't necessarily have to come to the conversation with a notepad and little boxes to check off, but pre-thinking can help you organize your thoughts and anticipate possible reactions. With that, though, you want to be careful not to end up sounding too scripted; it should be a conversation, not a monologue.

Also, sometimes it really is just easier to write it out, even though it's more avoidant. I've had a number of difficult conversations that began with the sending of a very carefully-worded letter.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 5:07 AM on October 15, 2006

Seconding sarahsynonymous. If it's an important topic, thinking things out beforehand is crucial for me. Otherwise I'll be too nervous or forgetful and the conversation suffers. Also, if I know it's going to be a difficult or personal conversation, I do try to find an appropriate time and place to talk (within limits). I once was on the receiving end of an acrimonious "we need to talk" moment at 2am in Denny's. After a while, the waitresses started giving us looks. If it needs to happen to happen right then, it will; otherwise, I say choose your venue.

Not being someone with particularly developed communication skills (most of the time), I have found Messages: The Communication Skills Book [toc] to be a *very* helpful book for learning technique. Actually, the authors have written a bunch of books on this and similar topics, including one covering communication in LTRs.
posted by metabrilliant at 7:01 AM on October 15, 2006

When my partner was undergoing gender transition, it was a very emotional time for both of us. We found that if we tried to have a back-and-forth conversation, our feelings would rise up so strongly that we'd end up locked in conflict, each of us feeling like the other wasn't listening or didn't care about what we were feeling or experiencing.

We ended up talking in 15-minute chunks every few days. During one chunk, one of us would talk and the other would just listen, maybe asking clarifying questions. During the next chunk, Partner B, having had an opportunity to have whatever strong feelings were going to happen and let them come and go a bit, would get his/her 15 minutes to talk and be listened to. It helped a lot, especially since in-between we made a point of doing some things we enjoyed together, so we could remember that our relationship hadn't always been--and wouldn't always be--so much work.

Of course, we've had lots of other times when we've been able to talk about things more casually, with back-and-forth. But when things are really heated and emotional, some version of "You talk, I just listen for X amount of time" has helped us not get bogged down. We try to strike the right balance between giving the issue attention while not feeling panicked and rushed, like the problem has to be solved right this minute.

I have friends who've been together about 15 years (one year longer than us). Neither of them likes to talk about relationship things. They sit down quarterly for a check-in, on the solstices and equinoxes. It works for them!
posted by not that girl at 7:10 AM on October 15, 2006

I agree that every person — and every couple — communicates differently.

That has an interesting corrolary: in every relationship you're in, you have to re-learn how to communicate.

My own experience has borne this out. In fact, I've found that one of the biggest challenges in a new relationship is figuring out how to communicate with each other. Hearing how other couples do it is sometimes an inspiration — I'll go home from a chat with one of my friends thinking "Gee, I wonder if that trick they use would work for me and nebulawindgirl when we're fighting" — but it's not going to solve the problem for you.

So the real trick, if you ask me, is to get curious about the whole process of communication. Take mental notes. Hell, take real ones if you have to. Don't ever expect to have a permanent "solution." Try different things. Force yourself to try some that make you uncomfortable, but try following your gut and doing what's easy too. See what works.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:29 AM on October 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Nonviolent Communication, by Marshal Rosenberg.

As a trained mediator (non-practicing), this is probably the best framework for being able to say what you really mean without it coming out all horribly wrong.

The idea is to pin an event from the intersubjective ("consensus reality") to an event in the subjective ("your head"). It's tricky, but it's the best formulation of "I Statements" that doesn't provide leeway for nasty stuff like "I feel like... your inability to provide for our family is poisoning this marriage."

It's also not rules-based, so it doesn't provide much fodder for refereeing ("Honey, that's a Hurtful Statement, as per pp. 89-91"). Instead, you assume responsibility for your own feelings and needs, and try to hear people expressing their unmet needs, regardless of the strategy through which they may try to meet those needs.

On a theoretical level, it's awesome stuff for analyzing conflicts. You get to ignore all the silly positions people take ("It's either me or that damn table!"), suss out their needs, and provide people with the framework for solving their own problems.
posted by Coda at 11:44 AM on October 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I like the book The Dance of Connection. The other ones by that author are good, too (esp. Dance of Intimacy).
posted by salvia at 11:50 AM on October 15, 2006

I think it's OK not to talk about everything.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:53 PM on October 15, 2006

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