I think that effective communication is among the most important skill needed for relationships to function well. Learning effective communication skills helps couples to learn to talk politely, to better understand each other, to care for one another, to help each person to feel more connected to the other person and to deal effectively with problem solving a variety of issues. Effective communication that helps around supporting feelings and caring for one another may be required before good problem solving strategies will even be effective. I also believe that fewer relationships end when people care and interact supportively but cannot work out certain issues, than relationships that problem solve well but are cold and distant. Men may be guiltier of the tendency to want to overly problem solve issues while discussing and supporting feelings less during communication.

We were all raised in an environment that probably left at least some deficits in our ability to communicate and many of us seem to have been raised in environments that had large deficits in communication. Unfortunately a significant amount of problematic conflict or lost connection in relationship can occur because of poor or ineffective communication. We may find ourselves involved with people and places where our current communication abilities work to some extent and reduce the level of conflict in our lives. Unfortunately these abilities may not be effective for deeper or long term in-depth communication such as in a significant relationship. Significant relationships, which typically require good in-depth communication for the people in the relationship to be continually developing and growing together and to work through conflict effectively, will often expose the deficits we have in our ability to communicate. Typically a healthy, growing person will also be constantly looking to improve their relationships and communication, even if the current level of communication in their relationship is good or reasonable. The following are the areas I think address a number of common mistakes made in communication and suggest guidelines and ideas that lead to better communication.

2) Good Listening Skills
Good listening in this context is more of a passive skill and involves that the person who is listening does not interrupt, talk over another person or give any indications that they are not listening. Instead, they will hear what the person is saying and let the other person comfortably finish whatever it is that they are talking about. The person will not interrupt, which can be done verbally, i.e. talking at the same time as someone else is talking, or non-verbally, i.e. rolling their eyes or walking away while the person is still speaking. Good listening may involve making eye contact, offering encouraging words or gestures and avoiding words or actions that will not support the person who is talking to be able to freely and fully express whatever it is that they want to say. **

3) Good Acknowledging Skills
In the context described here good acknowledging is more of an active skill. Acknowledging someone means you have heard and understood the person and can then give the person feedback that you have heard and understood them. One method to let a person know you have heard and understood them is by repeating back what they have said in as complete and natural a way as possible. Being able to repeat back the details about the issues and feelings that another person wants to be heard about is an important skill. Repeating back allows the other person to know you have paid attention to and have understood what they have said. If feelings and content are both shared by the person speaking, the listener can acknowledge both the feelings and the content. For example, the listener may say that they heard how disappointed that the other person was that a trip they were looking forward to was cancelled. The listener can also acknowledge only the feelings or only the content if that is what they heard. For example the listener may state that they heard the feelings of disappointment or they may state that they heard that the trip was cancelled. Essential to paraphrasing is that the listener not just hears the speaker but supports, advocates and shows interest in what the person is saying which may be demonstrated by asking further questions or by responding with an animated tone. Coldly repeating back what someone has said may discourage further openness and discussion. Adding your ideas or giving your interpretation about the feelings or issues the other person expressed, even if you are correct, before simply giving an acknowledgment may leave the person feeling unheard. For example, the person may state that they felt hurt when the other person walked away during a discussion. A response that adds how hurt the person was because walking away reminds them of other people who walked away on them provides an unstated interpretation. The person did not mention anything about other people walking away on them which can leave the person feeling unheard about what they did say. A complete acknowledgment should be given to what was said before a response is offered. For example, a simple acknowledgment may sound like, “I hear you are hurt by my walking away” and stating nothing further. I believe it is also important that the person who shared their feelings or issues has said or shown that they feel heard before the listener starts to talk about their feelings or issues. **

4) Keeping Feelings and Issues Separate
I believe that keeping feelings and issues separate is often essential for good communication. Though feelings and issues are closely connected, trying to talk about both at the same time, when each area can require its own unique skills to understand and resolve, can complicate communication. Obviously discussing feelings usually requires discussing something about the issue to give background information to the feelings. However if feelings are the important and primary issue, talking mostly about feelings and less about the issue can help the listener understand the importance of the feelings being shared. Alternately talking mostly about the issue can help the listener to understand that the issue is the most important aspect of what is being shared. If someone wants their feelings heard, they may request a response to the feelings they shared in a statement regardless of how many feelings or issues were discussed. **

In my experience the person who is listening will tend to respond to the issue and not the feelings when feelings and issues are both shared. However, usually having the feelings heard in an emotionally laden issue is the most important aspect of the conversation to be heard about. Often, the person who has shared both feelings and issues will feel unheard if the other person responds to the issue and not to their feelings. Commonly, the person who believes that their feelings were unheard will tend to not be able to move on in the discussion until their feelings have been heard and may not be able to hear or respond to what the other person has shared. **

Author's Bio: 

Murray Molohon is a Licensed/Registered Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists. He is also a member of the Psychologist Association of Alberta. He owns and operates his own independent and private practice, Counselling Services of Calgary, and specializes in individual and couple counselling.

Murray Molohon of Counselling Services of Calgary has over 20 years of experience in a supportive environment providing long term change with individual and relationship issues.

For couple counselling, Murray uses the above skills and often helps couples become more emotionally supportive and connected to each other which can make working issues out much easier. This approach can bring about significant changes in finding a more positive, committed, long-term relationship.