Effective communication is authentic – meaning honest and congruent. Say what you think or feel, and mean what you say. You probably assume you already do this, yet dishonesty is more common than you might guess (we often even fool ourselves about our own dishonesty). When you outwardly agree but inwardly don’t, you are being dishonest. Whether you want to: spare someone’s feeling, avert a conflict, want to be liked and avoid the judgment or criticism of someone, don’t want to burden someone or jeopardize a relationship, or when your words don’t match your insides, you’re sending a mixed message. In the same way when you say you’re fine, but your body language reveals that you are not (for example, if you smile while telling a sad story) your listener can get easily confused and doesn’t know how to respond and/or may not feel that he or she can trust you.

The purpose of communication is to convey information and feelings. To be effective, you want to be considerate and to communicate with respect.

Be direct. Make clear statements of what you think, feel, need, or want.

To be an effective communicator, listen with attention and respect to what others have to say. Genuine and “active” listening engages them and helps you adjust your message so that others will be receptive. Paraphrasing and repeating what was said to you will show them that you care and are interested. In turn they’ll be more receptive when they believe they matter to you. Timing is critical. Don’t start an important conversation when he/she is on the computer, or otherwise occupied. You may be setting yourself up for an argument.

You must take responsibility for your opinions, thoughts, feelings, and needs. That means not blaming the other person. Don’t tell them what THEY should do. Use “I” messages and claim what you think and feel. For example you may say “When you don’t return my calls, I feel unimportant.” It is better to wait and think about what you feel and the outcome you want before having the conversation.

Learning to communicate effectively can take years of practice, but it is empowering and worth the effort. Effective communicators are assertive. Assertiveness is one of those foundational communication skills required in any successful relationship. Not many people truly understand the nuances of this skill and can even confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness.

Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT

San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.