When people are asked what the most important ingredients in a relationship are, communication is rarely on the list. Yet we rarely are taught how to communicate effectively.

While communicating with others is a matter of either expressing ourselves or responding to someone else, the methods for doing each are actually different.

Here are 2 effective communication techniques that can help

Expressing Ourselves: “I-Statement”

When you are stating an opinion, making an observation, or expressing a feeling, the most appropriate format to use is called an “I-statement.” You may have heard of I-statements before and may even, hopefully, be already using them. I-statements allow us to state things in positive terms, to express ourselves directly and honestly, and to take responsibility for what we think, feel, and need while avoiding blaming or accusing others. In contrast, “You-statements” blame the other person, put him/her on the defensive, and often cause communication to be blocked.

To simplify things, we can use a kind of “formula” for I-statements:

  • “I feel/think/want(express the feeling/thought/desire)…
  • When (state the behavior causing it)…
  • Because (identify the reason)…”

The nice thing about this formula is that we can decide how much of it we want to use. It can be just the first line, or the first two lines, or all three; for example:

  • “Don’t you think you should mow the lawn?” as an I-statement becomes “I want to have the lawn mowed” or “I want to have the lawn mowed when it gets long because it really looks shabby.”

Another example:

  • “You make me angry when you’re late.” becomes “I get angry when people are late because I feel it’s very inconsiderate.”

Here are some statements that you can practice changing into I-statements:

  • “You always put those dishes in the wrong place.”
  • “You never talk to me.”

Responding To Others: Reflection

When other people are expressing themselves, it is not appropriate to use I-statements when responding. A more effective technique is called Reflection. Reflection is saying back, in your own words, the content and/or feeling of what the other person has just said.

The effects of using Reflection include:

  • showing people that you are really listening;
  • helping the other person feel better almost immediately;
  • easing the other person’s feelings of frustration;
  • helping cool down anger;
  • showing the other person that you’re trying to understand;
  • helping to build trust and cooperation;
  • fostering honest communication;
  • helping bridge communication gaps

What Reflection does NOT do: Question, challenge, argue, approve, or disapprove. We can use another, even simpler, formula for Reflection:

  • “Sounds like you’re feeling/thinking/wanting (express the emotion, thought, desire you hear)…
  • Because (state the reason you heard for it)….”

Obviously, Reflection requires us to listen very carefully to what the other person is actually saying. Yet we also do NOT have to be right in identifying the emotion or reason we hear because the speaker will automatically clarify it for us (and sometimes for him/her in the process). For example:

  • Speaker: “This postponement has really gotten to me.”
  • You: “Sounds like you’re feeling pretty upset because of the delay.”
  • Speaker: “Yes, I don’t like it at all and I’m getting darn frustrated.” OR “No, I think I’m more nervous than anything.”

What we need to remember, however, is that when we use Reflection, the other person is going to continue talking about what she/he is experiencing, so we need to make sure we have time to listen. When we first begin using I-statements and Reflection, it can feel artificial. It doesn’t take long, however, for them to become automatic. Experiment with them and you may find that your discussions with other people become much more productive and satisfying.

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