7 Golden Rules of Communication

Good communication is not rocket science. It’s also not ‘painting by numbers’ where people have to learn a set of techniques. It’s not enough to learn some skills. The key to good communication is not just having good communication skills, but also having self-awareness. Why do you react and behave the way you do? What motivates your actions?
A cardinal problem at the root of conflict between people is the belief that the other person “makes you feel xyz”. Eleanor Roosevelt already stated “Nobody can make you feel anything without your consent!” That leads us to the…
Golden Rule No. 1: It’s not about you!
What someone else says or does to your is never about you! Don’t take what another person says personally! You only run the risk to become defensive and the situation will most likely escalate into a conflict. People only communicate from their own history and their own needs. What can you do? Look for the deeper, underlying meaning of the communication. What is the other person’s need?
Mastering rule no. 1 is certainly not easy. To be self-aware enough and detached enough to not be offended, defensive, or reactive when accused by someone (i.e. “you make me angry”)takes knowing yourself very well. It means that you need the skill to reflect on your actions, the other person’s actions, and on the dynamics created amongst them.
Golden Rule No. 2: Listen – Listen – Listen!
Many people think that communicating is mostly about telling other people about yourself. They talk and talk about themselves. Being in love with their own voice, they don’t notice that they may come across as a self-obsessed person. What they totally overlook is that the most important part in communicating is listening. Listening is not just waiting for your turn to speak. By listen actively you show the other person you care. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person. It is one of the most healing and soothing experiences you can provide.
Do you struggle with listening skills? One of the best listening skills is “Active Listening”. When you go to my website http://gudrunfrerichs.com you will find examples about how to listen actively.
Golden Rule No. 3: Don’t treat an assumption as a fact!
People often have an idea about what they think is going on for the other person and don’t think for a moment to check their assumption out. For example “He doesn’t ring, that means he doesn’t love me. If he would love me, he would know how important it is for me that he rings”. Well, sometimes somebody not ringing just means they didn’t ring. You have to check it out with the other person. Don’t act upon the story you have made up in your head. We usually call that a ‘Fairy Tale’.
Rule no. 3 is certainly not easy to master. Most people are convinced that their evaluation of an incident is right. On top of that they are usually so insecure and have such low self-esteem that they can’t bear not to be right. So they end up in a “Yes you have – no I haven’t – yes you have – no I haven’t” conversation that leads to nothing but frustration.
Golden Rule No. 4: Be clear when you ask for something.
George Bernhard Shaw said “The problem with communication is that people believe it has already happened”. Indeed, a person may say “I need much more support from you” and thinks they have been perfectly clear about their request. Yet support could mean a million things to a million people. It’s great to communicate a need (i.e. support, connection, peace, warmth, space).For the other person to know how you would like to be supported for example, you will have to request a specific action “could you go with me to the dentist?” Remember, the other person is not a mind-reader.
I am convinced that half of the problems between couples or friends are based on people expecting the partner to know what they mean. It’s almost as if they want to go back to the time of being a 3 months old infant whose mother intuits all the time what it is the baby needs. They forget that it’s easy to do for new mothers considering the needs of the baby being limited to food, rest, warmth, and caring touch. Guessing adult needs in similar ways is impossible!
Golden Rule No. 5: Focus on what you want!
Be mindful of how you express your wishes and your requests. A mistake often made is that people express their wishes in negative forms and then expect the other person to know what they want. “I don’t want you to use this phone”. It’s like going into a restaurant and ordering “I don’t want spaghetti”. Well, you better express what you want and not what you don’t want if you don’t want to go home hungry.
It is surprising how often people talk about the things they don’t want rather than saying what it is they want. How about you do a small private research project and observe for a week or two how often you or someone else focuses on what they don’t want?
Golden Rule No. 6: Making “I-statements!”
You’ve heard it all! Making “I-statements” is the bread-and-butter of communication skills. Yet it is astounding how many people don’t follow that rule. When they share their experiences they rather use the non-committal ‘you’ and thereby communicate their experience from a once-removed position. Making “I-statements” is far more intimate and both you and the person you communicate with will be more connected to what you chose to share.
Making “I-statements” is far more difficult than people normally think. Consider the following statement: “You can’t get by on the benefit” and then try on for size “I can’t get by on the benefit”. A very, very different kettle of fish.
Golden Rule No. 7: Learn about yourself!
When we communicate with another person we cannot not be influenced by our personal experiences. If you want to relate to the person that is standing in front of you, you need to know which of your feelings and perceptions belong to that person and to the here and now, and which of them belongs to people and experiences from your past. If you struggle more often with communication issues, it might be a good idea to see a counselor or psychotherapist to help you to understand the link between your current reactions and your past experiences.
Master these Golden Rules and you will become a master of communication in no time!
by Dr. Gudrun Frerichs


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