Communication is Ongoing
A real positive change in the last 10 years is that people understand more than ever that poor communication is the root of a large amount of the conflicts in the world. I hear so many clients who come into counseling already well aware that improving their communication skills will be a major benefit for them in pretty much all aspects of life. Communication skills like active listening, presenting points clearly, avoiding deflection, and keeping emotions in check are commonly discussed by people. It definitely is a positive change in our psyches, where we prioritize good communication to avoid unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings. This positive change has led to some more attention being brought onto some other issues that comes from communication, and one issue in particular that I have seen people struggle with is keeping communication as a fluid and ongoing process. Difficult conversations are more openly practiced by many, but it seems that there is an expectation that a difficult conversation will solve a problem and then it can be put on the shelf. In reality, difficult conversations are often the openings of a process of solving a problem instead of where the solution is found. Let’s look at the importance of keeping communication ongoing as well as fluid and adjusting to changing circumstances.
Pausing Versus Ending Communication
Many more people than ever seem to be willing to open up communication on complicated and emotional issues. In romantic relationships, with peers, with children, and even with themselves, the avoidance of approaching the “tough” issues seems to be at an all time low. That is great as that is the only way to truly develop in ways that mean something powerful as individuals and as a society. The struggle seems to be in that people will open up a conversation on a tough issue but expect the issue to be fully solved before the communication stops. While it is a good idea to not let an issue only be partially addressed, we all need to work on being able to pause communication and pick it up at a later time. These pauses are necessary due to burn out that occurs when dealing with anything emotionally heavy, limited time due to busy schedules, and perhaps most importantly, giving people time to collect their thoughts as we work through an issue as we all have limited brain power at any given moment. Pausing communication is not stopping it altogether but it does need to happen as almost no major issues in life can be solved in one short conversation. Here are some tips to help pause communication when serious topics are involved:
- Set a time limit for the conversation before it starts.
- Remember that getting the last word or point is not important, winning a conversation is not the point of good communication.
- Promises between communication participants to pick up this conversation again within a reasonable amount of time. (The definition of reasonable is determined by what particular issue is being discussed and the urgency it requires.)
- Always leave on at least a neutral exchange, preferably positive, but never negative. If you are stuck in a tense negative space in a conversation, make the last few minutes dedicated to getting back to emotional neutral.
Restarting Communication After a Pause
After communication has been paused and an issue is ready to be addressed again, it is not strong communication skills to simply jump back in exactly where we left off. Restarting communication should be focused on first informing each participant about what context has changed since last time an issue was discussed. Let’s look at a specific hypothetical example to illustrate this point:
A couple has had a conversation about a major issue in their relationship. They have strong disagreement over how they are going to spend the holidays. Each partner wants to spend it with their family, but they do not want to separate from one another during the holidays. The first conversation went well, but ended with no concrete resolution. One of the people in the relationship has since found out that a member of their family has been diagnosed with cancer and will be undergoing treatment throughout the holidays. This is very vital new information, and it’s the first order of business to be addressed when the communication is resumed. In the prior conversation, there wasn’t a deep need for one person to be able to visit and support their family during a trying time. Now there is a need, and this tough to solve issue now has new information that will undoubtedly influence how the decision is made. Maybe there still isn’t a solution due to a 2nd conversation, but the focus has to be on the new information that has been gathered instead of just rehashing the points made in prior communication.
A lot of times there won’t be as catastrophic or major new information, but the point remains that restarting communication on a hostile or challenging topic requires all new information, changes of opinions, and other external factors to be addressed as opposed to just doing a repeat of the previous conversation and expecting someone to just give up and accept the other point of view. This is where keeping communication fluid and subject to context is super important, as an issue on Monday often has a lot of different variables when it is addressed on Friday.
When is it Time to Close Communication?
After communication and conversation has been engaged and reengaged, there has to be a time to close a conversation over a certain issue. The simple rule is that when there is resolution, it is okay to terminate communication over a certain issue. This is pretty common-sense thinking, but resolution is a specific circumstance where all parties involved have reached a level of acceptance of a plan of action. Acceptance does not need to mean perfect resolution where everyone got exactly what they want, but at least everyone is at a level where the resolution is superior to inaction. Something very important to remember: there is no such thing as a permanently closed conversation. There is no rule of the universe that says that once two people agree an issue is closed, it must stay closed. Things can be closed until there is a change in circumstances and a conversation needs to be reopened to address it. It may seem like this is a recipe for never ending communication about problems, but in reality there will be natural breaks due to there being resolution that works for long periods of time before something needs to be revisited.
If you would like to learn communication skills that will improve your life, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.