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Communication and Interpersonal Relationships

Most of us think that communicating is easy. After all, we've been communicating since about age 2 or 3 when we mumbled that first word. Although you may think uttering that first word was your first stab at communication, you were actually communicating well before that time. When babies cry or make sour or happy faces, they are also communicating even though it's nonverbally!

Communication may seem easy. However, it involves more than merely putting words together to form sentences. Communicating with others not only includes the words that come out of our mouths, it also includes our body language or listening/attending skills and the tone we use.

Effective Communication: The Words We Use

“I” Statements vs. “You” Statements

Most of the messages we send to people are “you” messages. These messages may make others feel defensive, make them feel guilty, make them feel their needs are not important, and may make them resist change.

Here are some examples of you statements:

  • “Stop doing that!” (Ordering, bossing others around)
  • “You’re acting like a baby.” (Blaming, name-calling, belittling)
  • “You should….” (Giving your idea of the solution, not compromising)

An “I” statement, on the other hand, allows a person who feels impacted by the behavior of another, to express the impact it has on her and, at the same time, leave the responsibility for modifying the behavior with the person who demonstrated that particular behavior. An “I” message consists of three parts: 1) the specific behavior 2) the resulting feeling you experienced because of the behavior and 3) the effect of the behavior on you. Therefore, “I” statements build trust between people and, in turn, build their relationship.

A commonly used communication model is below:

When you ___________________, I feel _______________________.

For example, "I feel ignored when you don't look at me while I'm talking." This is much easier for someone to hear than "You're ignoring me."

Identify and Use Feeling Words

Specifically and clearly identifying feelings is also important in communication. Review the feeling words list below to learn about more feelings than the typical happy, mad, or sad.

Frightened Ashamed Angry Sad

afraid
anxious
apprehensive
full of dread
edgy
horrified
nervous
overwhelmed
panicked
scared
tense

embarrassed
guilty
humiliated
insulted
invalidated
regretful
remorseful
shamed

annoyed
disgusted
enraged
frustrated
grouchy
filled with hate
hostile
irritated
jealous
mad
outraged
resentful

abandoned
alone
defective
dejected
depressed
despairing
disappointed
discouraged
empty
filled with grief
helpless

hopeless
inadequate
incompetent
inferior
insecure
isolated
lonely
neglected
rejected
unhappy
worthless

Use Assertive Communication

Being assertive means that you honestly and directly express yourself without accusing, blaming, name-calling, etc. Here are a few ways you can communicate assertively:

  • Be specific, not general, in your communication.
  • Don't become overly emotional or bring up past grievances.
  • Be calm and steady. If your voice is soft, whiny, shaky, sarcastic, or threatening you won't come across as effectively.
  • Don't confront someone in front of other people, and be sure to discuss sensitive issues in private.
  • Tone matters! If what you say doesn’t match your tone, then the message is usually not heard because mixed signals are given. Consistency is important in communication.

Listening/Attending Skills and Body Language

"Pseudo-Listening" vs. "Real Listening"

What's the difference? Pseudo-listening is when one looks as if he or she is listening, though is not. Typically a lot of head nodding and "uh-huh’s” occur, even though the person isn't following a word that is being said. Real listening is when one thinks about what the speaker is saying and is engaged in the communication.

Nonverbal Cues

When one is truly listening, this is nonverbally communicated to the speaker, and the listener uses body language to convey this. The most common body language signals include the following:

  • Making eye contact with the speaker
  • Facing the person
  • Keeping the body open
  • Making appropriate facial expressions towards the speaker
  • Keeping a relaxed posture without interrupting or fidgeting

Paraphrasing and Reflecting

After the speaker is finished talking or takes a pause, you can then show the speaker you were listening by paraphrasing or reflecting back to the speaker. This means that you restate, in your own words, the message/main ideas/feelings, etc. that the speaker has just conveyed. (i.e. "So you had a pretty bad evening after your hard day at work.") This allows the speaker to feel understood. You may also reflect feelings and/or offer support for the speaker's feelings. (i.e. "Wow, that sounds really tough. Let me know if I can do anything for you.")

T.R.I.B.E. — A METHOD FOR COMMUNICATION

There is a quick and easy way to remember how to communicate effectively with others, using the acronym T.R.I.B.E.:

Tell what is up with you

  • Use “I” statements

Reflective listening

  • Remember that understanding and listening does not mean agreeing or condoning

Identify what is important

  • What is the real issue that needs to get resolved?

Brainstorm possible solutions

  • Work on this together, if you can!

Evaluate solutions and try one

  • Later, you can reevaluate them and modify, if needed

The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor should it replace the consultation of a trained medical or mental health professional. Please note that outside links are not under our control, and we cannot guarantee the content contained on them.