Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. They might be romantic relationships, or friendships, or family ties, but no matter what kind of relationship it is communication will play a vital role. As human beings, we are wired for connection. We all have that drive to experience the support and acceptance that relationships can offer. However, to experience the positive outcomes of a relationship, you first need to have a good relationship. By developing excellent communication skills, you can transform a poor relationship into a good one, or a good one to a great one!

What is good communication?

Communication usually involves:

  1. A Sender
  2. A Receiver
  3. A Message (verbal or non-verbal)

The receiver gets the message and interprets it. This process is never objective. Everyone has their own set of filters, biases, and communication styles which shapes the way we view incoming messages. This is what can make communication so tricky — no message is ever just factual information. It is always coloured by our own bias.

Friedmann Schulz von Thun (1981) developed a four-sided model of communication which states that every piece of communication has four facets:

  1. Fact (What you can relay about data, facts, or statements)
  2. Self Revelation (What you reveal about yourself to others)
  3. Relational (What you think about others, or how you get along)
  4. Appeal (What you want others to do)

Every time you communicate, your message will have more emphasis on one of these facets. However — to make matters more complicated — the receiver may have developed an ‘ear’ for one of the facets. For example, a husband may say to his wife “We’re out of milk.” but what he’s really meaning is, “Please pick up more milk.” The wife responds by saying “Well, you’re not so on top of things either! You still haven’t taken out the trash!” When the wife heard the husbands statement, her relational ‘ear’ interpreted it as a dig to her ability to manage the household. This is how our underlying emphasis on each facet can affect our communication.

  • Think about it: What ‘ear’ have you developed? Do you tend to hear everything as an appeal (do you always think something is expected of you)? Or maybe you feel like you’re always being interrogated (relational ear)? Understanding your underlying facet bias can help pause and re-evaluate before reacting in a knee-jerk fashion.

Communication is more than just talking, it’s listening too. Taking the time to really listen to another person shows respect and lets them know you care. Healthy communication involves the sharing of your own thoughts and the receiving of someone else’s: it’s a two-way street.

When things are going well in a relationship it’s easy to talk about things –  even difficult things. However, being vulnerable with another person can be extremely difficult if you already feel like you’re on shaky ground. Always remember, good and healthy communication is respectful and requires two people. It’s not manipulative, mean-spirited, or one-sided!

Tips for good communication

Like any skill, good communication takes practice. Here are some simple ways to practice being a better communicator today:

Use ‘I’ statements.

No one likes to be accused. When you say things like “You’re making me upset” or “You’re trying to make me mad!”, you automatically put the other person on the defensive. This does not help either of you open up and have an honest conversation. Instead, try phrasing things differently. “I feel upset when _____” shifts the focus from blame to the problem. Likely, the other person doesn’t want to upset you and so when you highlight the fact that you’re upset, rather than blaming them for doing it, they will be much more likely to try and help solve the problem.

Be clear.

Don’t expect anyone to read your mind. Ever. You will be disappointed every time. Tell the person you’re in a relationship what you think, feel, and need. But be nice about it, being honest doesn’t excuse being rude.

Don’t squish your feelings.

Pushing your feeling down doesn’t make them go away. Instead, it acts more like an old-timey cannon. Your feelings are the gunpowder that you pack down the barrel, eventually, you will explode. Instead, deal with problems as they arise, this is much less painful.

Build trust, and believe the best.

When you expect the worst of someone, they’ll usually give you what you’re looking for. Instead of constantly testing your friend, (partner, child, sibling, etc) why don’t you just trust them? Unless they’ve given you a really good reason not to, it’s always better to just trust someone.

Ask questions.

Never assume you know the answer. If you don’t know why someone is behaving in a certain way, or if you don’t understand what they’re saying: ask. This helps avoid major miscommunications.

Fight in person.

It is 1,000,000x easier to misunderstand someone without non-verbal cues. This is why having sensitive conversations over text is NEVER a good idea. You will have a much better outcome if you can hear the personas tone of voice and read their body language.

3 Things to remember

1: Unhealthy communication begins with a negative thought or a difficult emotion. Words are the result of our internal processes. So be mindful of your current emotional state, and internal thoughts. If you’re in a bad spot, save a sensitive conversation for later. And if you need support, try to communicate how you’re feeling.

2: You filter every message you receive. A great way to make sure you’re understanding what the other person is saying is to paraphrase. Repeat back, in your own words, what they have said to you to make sure you’re understanding and receiving it correctly.

3: Practice listening before talking. Listening is the far better skill to master. Focus on the person’s facial expression as they tell a story, and try to listen without thinking about what you’re going to say next. At the end of the day, good communication is about respect, valuing others and feeling valued.


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