Strained relationships create stress and can have a negative impact on your mood and your ability to function throughout the day. When you’re in conflict with someone else, you’re more likely to be worried, distracted or highly emotional.
We cannot make other people act as we’d wish, but we can become aware of when we act in ways that lead to problems in relationships. As we identify our own communication problems, we can choose to make changes in how we interact. If you do, you might just find that you’re able to solve intractable problems and that habitual conflicts no longer occur.
Making even small changes to how you communicate can improve the quality of your relationships.
Signs You Need to Change Course:
- You get an angry response. You might have good reason to confront someone, but if you are getting an angry response, it may be time to step back and assess your goals in the situation. When interactions begin to deteriorate into angry reactions, they often stop being productive. Try taking a breather and remembering what you wanted to achieve when you began the interaction. For example, were you hoping for an apology, did you want the other person to help you out or acknowledge wrong doing? Is it a case of misunderstandings? How might you describe your goal to the other person and ask for what you want, rather than become distracted by angry comments?
- As you are speaking or immediately after you finish, you know you have not said what you wanted. In the heat of the moment, we sometimes say things that we don’t mean or that we know we will later regret. If you notice this happening to you, try immediately going back, apologizing and correcting what you said.
- You question whether what you are saying is pushing the other person’s limits. Sometimes we want things from people that they are not able or willing to give. Are you pushing this person away by asking for too much? Try backing off and considering your long-term hopes for the relationship.
- The other person is looking upset, red in the face or near tears. Just like in the case of anger, other strong emotions, such as sadness or shame can cause an interaction to lose focus. Try taking a step back and evaluating your goals, when this happens.
- You’ve been talking for several minutes without anyone else having an opportunity to speak. Sometimes we’re so caught up in what we’re saying that we don’t realize that we’re dominating the conversation. If this happens to you often, you want to focus on speaking briefly and then putting all your energy into listening to the other person’s response, waiting to formulate your reply until after they have finished speaking.
- Other people won’t make eye contact. Another sign that they are experiencing a strong emotion.
- You’re using angry judgmental or threatening language.
- You are blaming others for all your problems or you are accepting blame for all of someone else’s problems.
- You’re afraid to speak your mind. We’re all afraid to speak up sometimes, but if you routinely find yourself afraid to speak your mind, you may want to begin to actively seek out ways to become more assertive. You may need to begin by telling yourself that you have the same rights as anyone else and that it’s okay for you to have things that you want and need.
- You’re apologizing, even when you don’t feel you’ve done anything wrong. Apologizing too much tells others that you don’t feel you deserve even basic considerations. It can result in someone taking advantage of you and can leave you feeling insecure.
- You are lying. Often we lie because we don’t want to hurt someone or because it’s the most expedient way to get what we want. Little white lies (“That’s a pretty dress” “I like your new hair cut”) aren’t going to have a major impact on the quality of your relationships, but a habit of lying erodes trust.
It is possible to change how you communicate with others. You may have habitual ways of interacting, but like driving or playing the piano, communicating is a skill that can be practiced and learned. If you’re frequently in conflict or, conversely, if you often feel overrun by others, noticing when problems occur and making a few changes can have an impact on how you feel about the people in your life and about yourself.
You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.
Boy with tin can phone photo available from Shutterstock.