Healthy relationships don’t just happen, they need to be nurtured

Improving relationships requires practice in positive communication skills.

We all have relationships with other people; parents, children, close friends, extended family, neighbors and colleagues. Each relationship is different and requires an investment of time, practice and energy if it is to grow in a healthy manner. According to Michigan State University Extension, relationships are a step-by-step process that can be improved by learning new ways of communication. Communication is the basic building block of our relationships.

If you are not satisfied with the way your current relationships are going, you may want to take a hard look at how and what you want to say to others and pay attention to how you are listening. Communication refers to the way we send and receive messages. This can be verbal (the things you actually say), and non-verbal (your face and body language). Consider the following tips when you begin to assess your own communication skills.

  • Clear communication requires both a sender and a receiver. The sender needs to be clear to accurately convey a message. The receiver needs to be receptive and open to clearly understand the message that is being sent.
  • Eliminate outside distractions; turn off the television, face the other person and concentrate on what is being communicated. If you are preoccupied at the time you might tell the other person that you are busy for the next “X” amount of minutes and could talk when you are done with your task. Much communication today is done long distance through email, text or three rooms away. Practice face-to-face communication when possible.
  • Stay on topic. It is easy to bring up other things than the topic you are ready to discuss. This is especially true if you are upset with the other person about something. Plan for what you want to say and then say it in a positive way.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Many times communication goes poorly when we assume that we know what the other person is thinking or that they should know what we are thinking. Share information, pause regularly for responses and allow for questions.

Stop the conversation occasionally to affirm what you are hearing or that your message is being received. This is easily done by using a phrase such as, “so what I hear you telling me is…” or “I know I’ve given you a lot to take in, is all of this clear to you?”

  • Listen for the feeling behind the words that are being said. Try to determine what message the sender is trying to convey. Are they upset, angry, disappointed or confused?
  • When the sender has finished talking, ask questions to clarify what you heard. “It sounds like you want me to…” or “So what I hear you saying is…”
  • Don’t offer advice. Let the sender know that you understand their message. Advice often shuts down communication.

When working on effective communication to improve a relationship the old saying, “practice makes perfect” is very true. Healthy relationships depend on healthy communication skills. The MSU Extension RELAX workshop series reminds participants that there is a reason we have two ears and only one mouth. We should listen twice as much as we speak. Everyone has a right to be heard and understood. Teach ways to nurture good relationships through positive communication in your home and your work environment by being a good model of effective communication.

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