4 Steps to Better Communication

Have you heard of couples who get into fights, scream at each other and don’t really listen to each other? Why do people fight like this? The fight may start out innocently enough.
Let’s say that a wife asks her husband to do something, he forgets and she gets angry. She may not even know why she is so angry.

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Then she may explode at him and he doesn’t know why. They may start screaming at each other without listening to each other. There’s definately a better way to handle these situations.

At first this technique may seem artificial, but with practice it will become natural and will increase understanding in your relationships.  

The person who feels hurt begins to speak. The second person listens without interrupting. When the first person has finished, the second person hopefully will have a deeper understanding of what is really bothering the first person.   

The person with the complaint should speak in a sequence of four steps.

First step: Talk only about facts, about what actually happened. For example, “I asked you to take out the garbage, you said that you would but you didn’t do it.” The statement should focus only on one incident, not what happened in the past or what always happens. There should be very little to argue about step one.

Second step: Talk about about your values and/or how you interpret the situation. For example, you might say ”I believe that if a person says that he will do something, he must do it. Not doing what one commits to shows lack of responsibility.”  This stage explains to the other person why you are upset.

Third step: Talk about your feelings and how your interpretation makes you feel. How do his acts affect you emotionally? For example,  you might say “When you don’t do what you commit to, I feel that I can’t trust you and then I feel panicked because I don’t know what to expect. That undercuts my sense of security and makes me feel scared.” This step explains what is happening to you emotionally, which probably was not clear to the other person.

Fourth step: Request the behavior change that you want. You should be clear about what you want the other person to do. For example, “In the future, if you don’t want to do something, say so. If you say you will do it, then please do it.”

This kind of conversation shows the person that it’s not just about taking out the garbage, it’s about deep emotions, expectations, disappointments and maybe even fears. This understanding deepens the relationship and brings people closer to each other.

After the first person is finished explaining what bothers her, the second person should empathize with her. Ask about and discuss things that are unclear. Discuss how her values, emotions, and desires fit together as a whole picture and try to relate to what the person went through and why.

The second person can discuss how she relates to the situation with her values, emotions, and desires and see where the discussion flows to. The discussion can continue on and off for days and weeks, whatever fits, until the problem is resolved. If there are underlying issues that continue to bother either of them, they may consider seeking professional help. People want to learn to resolve issues and have ongoing give and take with each other for more harmony between them.


James Fishman has been involved in the world of online magazines for more than 15 years. He helped launch Sunstone Online and continues to improve the magazine as site editor and administrator. His writing focuses primarily business and technology. To be in touch with James, feel free to contact him at james[at]sunstoneonline.com.

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