Lillian and Paul, congratulations on your engagement! You have just started a long journey which leads to the gift of marriage. Am sure you have heard people say that marriage is not a bed of roses, another claim that marriage is the most problematic event in life. Since this is where you are heading to, I will assure you that the initial relationship shapes the future of both of you. In fact, if marriage is as bad as people perceive it, then why are over 90% of people still in marriage? As the social scientist, Brantley states that interpersonal relationship is the heart of every relationship, the way you communicate determines your understanding and your decision making in the relationship (Brantley, 2007). I'm honored that you decided to ask for my advice regarding how effectively to use interpersonal communication in your relationship. Currently, as you already know, I am taking a course in interpersonal communication, and I am so eager to share what I learn in class with people in the real world, and also to apply them to my own situations.
For effective interpersonal communication, you need to learn the principles and misconceptions in effective interpersonal communication. As well, identify barriers to effective interpersonal interactions; develop strategies for active, critical and emphatic listening. Also, recognize how words have the power to create and affect attitudes, behavior and perception. Recognize how self-concept and defensive and supportive messages and behaviors create positive and negative communication climate and to describe strategies for managing interpersonal conflicts. In the preceding segment, I shall take you through all of the above.
Principles of effective communications are guidelines that are intended to assist in interpersonal interactions. However, they are not rules. We should be aware of these principles. First of all, it is important to treat each other with respect in a relationship. Here, respect does not fear based subservience that can occur towards people with power or money, it is the personal open hearted consideration of another human as being of equal worth to ourselves whoever they are, whatever they have done. This is a particularly challenging principal when in dispute with someone. Paul, you are the man in the relationship but not the head of a relationship. Therefore, in this case you should respect Lillian even if you fell she is not doing what you expect. Similarly, Lillian should not use her gender to disrespect Paul. According to Wachtel 1993, couples should understand that they just met when they were mature. The respect that none has brought up the other should remind that respect and loves are what brought them together (Wachtel, 1993). Therefore, it is important to treat each other with respect. However, this is not about denying our feelings. We can tell them how we feel about other without being abusive. The point is to make the most effective response to a conflict, to act in ways that are least harmful and least wearing on ourselves as well as most effective in moving towards resolution. Treating a partner disrespectfully leads to an escalating series to destructive responses in all their forms. Acting respectfully is in both our interest and the interest of others who may be affected by our dispute. For instance, in the case of a divorce, children may be affected by the dispute.
Secondly, you should avoid interrupting each other during conversation. Let us focus our efforts and attentions on what others say and avoid unnecessary interruptions. This will give you the chance to get listened to more. It also makes conversations more interesting, useful, worthwhile and joyful. However, consistent, premature and unnecessary interruptions make conversations difficult, tiring, anxious and boring. Interruptions come in different forms, e.g. mobile phones going on, starting to listening to music or watching TV while conversing with someone. Phrases like "I know that is what happened to me", "have gotten a million better stories to listen to this... " And other such phrases are considered interruptions and should be avoided. Paul and Lillian, you should as much as possible avoid assuming that you know what the other person is saying before they finish and coming in with suggestions. This is not only disrupting but also humiliating. Remember relationships are very delicate and have to be handled with care.
Schoenberg highlights that it is unethical to volunteer your partner without his/her consent. Learn to value other's right to choose and not use force or a language that suggests you can choose for them. Remember your partner is a separate individual with different interests, perspectives and favorites. Therefore, learn to consult first so as to make a shared decision. Sometimes though, it is acceptable to be volunteered to do something. For instance, Paul may decide to take Lillian out and suggest, "I am taking you to the beach this weekend." It is worth noting that these principles are not rules, they are merely pointers towards reasons communications break down when it does (Schoenberg, 2011).
Speaking is good if one partner does not speak for too long or too often. This way you get time and opportunity to learn and be creative through hearing other's views about what you say so we can reply better. Lastly, as the scientists' state, "an error is not a mistake unless repeated severally." Therefore, it is ok to make mistakes. Mistakes should be opportunities for learning corrections and insight rather than opportunities to condemn others because we too are not perfect. One should adopt the no blame approach (Schoenberg, 2011).
Misconceptions in effective interpersonal communications
Misconceptions are simply what many people consider being true about interpersonal communications, which are indeed not true. Partners in a relationship perceive that the other party knows what we are talking about. This is a very wrong assumption. It is always a good practice to make it clear to all what we are talking about. This will ensure that your partner gets to give relevant points, and they feel part and parcel of a situation. This has the effect of increasing intimacy for them is that feeling of trust. Secondly, partners assume that they know the partners views and opinions of situations. It is not uncommon to hear someone say "I know him/her, and this is what he/she is going to say." The fact is, it does not matter how much we think we know someone, and we can never really know them. Therefore, we should eliminate all forms of prejudice for effective interactions. Paul, even if you may know Lillian, it is not true that you can always predict rightly what she is going to say concerning a situation. It is better to be patient and listen to what she has to say instead of trying to guess. We don't want to miss out the point, do we?
You should not show any emotions. Some people associate showing emotions to being weak and would do everything to hide their feeling but the truth of the matter is that at times, for the sake of effective interpersonal communication we should be able to show what we feel or how we feel. Smile, why hide your joy. Cry; let your partner know that you are unhappy. Laugh, it is perfectly ok to do so and so on. There is no point in trying to hide your feelings and yet we are humans. Showing what you feel about something also helps to set boundaries for the other party will always know what not to say or do. For instance if Paul comes home late and Lillian is unhappy about that, let him know how you feel, otherwise the habit may persist.
Believing that you are always right is wrong. There is no denying that we may know something about something, but it is possible that what you know is not the whole truth. In an open discussion, we should be open minded and recognize that you may not always be right. If we are wrong, we should accept corrections. It is also good to avoid victimizing someone just because they are wrong because everybody makes mistakes, however gross. While having any discussion or argument for that matter, you should always remember that the aim is to reach a consensus and not for one to win the argument or to make the other person lose, it is not a court battle for heaven's sake!
Identify barriers to effective interpersonal interactions
Barriers to effective communication include those factors that hinder the passing of information to the extent that the message intended is lost, or it is never received at all. By all means, you should look out for these factors before trying to relay any information to ensure effective communication (Preston, 2005).
Physiological Barriers are the physical state of the receiver e.g. reduced hearing. It is good that you get to know your spouse well enough. Are they physically challenged in any way? Attitudinal Barriersare mostly behaviors or the perception that prevents people from communicating effectively and arise from personal conflicts, poor management, resisting to change, or a lack of motivation. Partners should struggle to overcome their own mood swings for effective interactions. For instance, if Lillian has mood swings during her monthly periods, it is significant to understand this and avoid being rude to Paul. It is better to avoid many conversations these days that destroy the relationship because of moods.
It is important to avoid ambiguity when conversing with your partner. Some words have more than one meaning and if used inappropriately may cause the wrong message to be received. Such words should not be used, or when used should be clearly defined to avoid any ambiguity. It is important for both of you to find the most appropriate place and time to pass information. For instance, you can wait until your partners temper has subsided, and then tell them in a loving way that what they did was wrong instead of trying to make up while everybody is angry.
Develop strategies for active, critical and emphatic listening
This means finding ways of being able to offer complete and undivided attention to your partner. It includes maintaining appropriate eye contact so that it does not appear like you are starring which may scare the partner, asking relevant questions, taking note of the speaker's use of body language, speaking when called upon to speak for example answering a question, etc.
Emphatic listening is responding to another person in a way that improves mutual understanding and trust. It enables the partners to receive and accurately interpret the each other's message and then provide appropriate responses. The response is always the integral part of the listening process and can be critical to the success of a relationship. Preston believes that emphatic listening builds trust, enables partners to release their emotions, encourages the surfacing of information and creates a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem-solving. Emphatic listening is projecting oneself into the personality of another (Preston, 2005).
In a romantic relationship, giving your spouse a good listen will greatly motivate her. It will create the notion that you are caring and willing to make things better. Emphatic listening will assure your partner safe talking to you and will pour their heart out to you because they feel they can trust you. The more your partner talks, the more information you get and the more likely you are to make right decisions and to respond to their queries more appropriately. Johnson argues that to listen actively and critically, partners must avoid distractions like fidgeting, thinking about different things or having a divided mind, loud music, not being keen on the partner's use of body language and others. If your spouse realizes that you are not being attentive to them, they will lose confidence in you and will no longer be free to share sensitive information (Johnson, 2011).
Recognize how words have the power to create and affect attitudes, behavior and perception
Words can have incredible effects. Words inform, and words persuade. Words can also ruin or hurt. Words can start wars but can also be used to negotiate peace in case of war. To get your point across, you have to speak and understanding of the point you put across depends on your choice of words. Poor diction can destroy all hope of your ideas getting understood, and usually leads to unintended messages.
In a relationship, it is important that we learn to recognize that the tongue is a powerful weapon and through small must be used well. As the psychologist McCroskey, J. (2004) states, "The tongue is in a slippery place and can easily fall." Using the tongue without care can destroy a relationship build in many years (McCroskey, 2004). The mood we create with our choice of words should always be an easy mood that encourages openness and increases intimacy.
It is important that in a relationship, one learns that it may not always be easy to create the right mood all the time, but for the sake of better interpersonal communication, it is worthy putting an effort towards achieving this goal. In general conversations, one should be careful of what they say whether out of anger or out of passion. What you tell someone may greatly their moods. It may cause self-esteem issues, or may hurt a person. Harsh words in a relationship create bad attitudes and the perception that you are mean and uncaring to your spouse. Harsh words in a relationship may greatly affect the behavior of the other party and their attitude and your perception. You will be perceived as an unloving and a heartless man or woman and your relationship will be a relationship just for convenience, a relationship that has little chance of surviving the test of time.
Our tendencies of being harsh to our partner are especially conspicuous when trying to correct someone for mistakes done. We forget so easy that a loved one can be and should be corrected in a loving manner, in a way that shows that although we do not approve of their behavior at times, we still love them and appreciate them. In essence, try always be nice towards each other in a relationship. Being nice is not just about doing nice and exciting things for your partners. Being nice is also being kind and mindful while remaining honest to your spouse. Every time you speak, speak with love and out of love, and your words will help in sustaining your relationship.
Evaluate appropriate levels of self-disclosure in a relationship
There is a need for you to practice and learn the skills of expression and communication for you to be able to share your worries, hopes and thoughts. This means being able to acknowledge the privacy of your spouse through you are engaged, and the ability to be able to control our curiosity and need to monitor every move of our spouse. Although you may be in a relationship, it is not given that your spouse will share everything. Therefore, it is always good to acknowledge this fact to avoid disputes, demanding that you get to know everything is wrong (Johnson, 2011).
Most successful relationships are built on trust, mutual understanding and love. With these elements, you will be able to contain our curiosity and nagging will stop. However, it is not a rule that some things should remain unknown to one spouse especially if it affects them; it merely means that the spouse who owns the secret has a right to share or no to share what they know depending on whether they are free to do so or not (Bernstein, 2011). For instance, Paul had a relationship with another woman before falling in love with Lillian, it is his decision to reveal to Lillian or keep it as a secret. If you are free to speak then speak, but if you are uncomfortable she should never force you. Schoenberg points out that, demanding to know everything from a partner is a sign of great insecurity and lack of trust. Such a relationship is more likely to fail because the insecure partner will always feel that their spouse is cheating on them (Schoenberg, 2011). Lillian, you do not have to demand an explanation on why Paul fails to come for lunch, the people who called him or sent a message and so on. The most important thing in a relationship, however, is trust and love and honesty. You can share everything you want to share, but please respect each other's right to holding what they deem they should not share for whatever reason they may give.
Describe strategies for managing interpersonal conflicts
In his view, Bernstein says that strategies are to ways of trying to solve existing conflicts amicably for the benefit of both parties or simply for purposes of working together and maintaining peace. There are several strategies that can be used, these include: forcing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising and collaborating. Research has shown that, people tend to use one way of the five ways above more than the other, but in reality, there are situations where one strategy is likely to be more effective than the other, and this is determined by:
Time and urgency: some strategies for collaborating may take time although it creates practical solutions to problems and fosters good rapport. Where time is a factor, methods that are more drastic and immediate may and perhaps should be applied. In a relationship, however, forcing may not always be effective for the other party may feel unimportant if they are always forced to do what they do not want. Therefore, it is much better to collaborate. When the issue is unimportant, you can avoid. Power: although power is clearly defined in other institutions, in a relationship, there is no one who is particularly powerful. When one is powerful, he can use that to impose their will on the partner. Forcing will thus be more appropriate to them. Importance of the issue: to what extent does important priorities and principles or values are involved in the conflict? When you find that you are in a conflict over an important matter with the other party, it is always good to cooperate (Bernstein, 2011).
According to Schoenberg, managing conflicts is a matter of great concern in modern day marriages. People opt to walk out of relationships when they are in a conflict rather than staying and trying to solve it, couples like you should struggle to learn how to manage and solve your conflicts and to live with each other in harmony by learning whom you are and what you want and who your partner is. In fact, it is practically impossible to live without conflicts and disagreements. Therefore, it is safe to learn how to resolve them than trying to avoid them (Schoenberg, 2011).
Let me conclude by saying that, communication is the solvent of all problems and is the foundation for personal development. It is the reason some relationships and marriages work. It is also the reason why some relationships fail it is not effectively conducted. In order for your relationship to work, it is important that you learn how to communicate with each other as well as master the techniques for managing conflicts. The references that I have given below are loaded with important and relevant information to your area of concern. I would greatly encourage you to look for the articles and read them in detail.