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6 Steps to Better Communication

crucialconversations.pngGrowing up is hard to do.

Especially if you’re speech delayed … meaning that you like to bolt before the tough conversations happen.

Having been raised in a dysfunctional family with the rest of America, I didn’t exactly learn good communicational skills at home. I couldn’t articulate what I wanted or needed without a good silent treatment, screaming session, or other manipulation technique.

But to keep friends and win a husband I eventually had to learn how to talk. About the important stuff. In their book, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High,” authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler offer several tips to help guide the communication-challenged folks among us so I’ve condensed and excerpted their advice below.

1. Start with heart.

Remember that the only person you can directly control is yourself and focus on what you REALLY want. People who are best at dialogue realize that not only are they likely to benefit by improving their own approach, but also that they’re the only person they can work on anyway.

2. Learn to look.

When caught up in a crucial conversation, it’s difficult to see exactly what’s going on and why. When a discussion starts to become stressful, we often end up doing the exact opposite of what works. To break from this insidious cycle: learn to look at content and conditions, look for when things become crucial, learn to watch for safety problems, look to see if others are moving toward silence or violence.

3. Make it safe.

When you’ve made a mistake that has hurt others, start with an apology. You have to give up saving face, being right, or winning in order to focus on what you REALLY want. Sometimes others feel disrespected during crucial conversations even though we haven’t done anything respectful. Use a contrasting statement that addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect or that you have a malicious purpose and confirms your respect or clarifies your real purpose.

4. Master my stories.

If strong emotions are keeping you stuck in silence or violence, try to do this: Get in touch with your feelings. Learn to accurately identify the emotions behind your story. Analyze your stories. Question your conclusions and look for other possible explanations behind your story. Get back to the facts. Abandon your absolute certainly by distinguishing between hard facts and your invested story. Watch for clever stories. Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories sit at the top of the list.

5. State my path.

When you have a tough message to share, or when you are so convinced of your rightness that you may push too hard, remember to STATE your path: Share your facts. Tell your story. Ask for others’ paths. Talk tentatively (state your story as a story–don’t disguise it as a fact). And encourage testing. That is, make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.

6. Explore others’ paths.

To encourage the free flow of meaning and help others, start with an attitude of curiosity and patience. Then use four powerful listening skills: Ask. Start by simply expressing interest in the other person’s views. Mirror. Increase safety by respectfully acknowledging the emotions people appear to be feeling. Paraphrase. As others begin to share part of their story, restate what you’ve heard to show that it’s safe for them to share what they’re thinking. Prime. Take your best guess at what they may be thinking and feeling.

6 Steps to Better Communication

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Therese J. Borchard

Therese J. Borchard is a mental health writer and advocate. She is the founder of the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue, and is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist. You can reach her at or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Borchard, T. (2018). 6 Steps to Better Communication. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Aug 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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