Communication can make or break relationships, but polishing and honing your skills can help ensure your connections prosper.

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Communication is integral to our lives. It’s essential in helping us convey thoughts, desires, and feelings, and understanding those of others. And it involves a whole lot more than just words — with tone, body language, and other visual cues equally as powerful.

However, it’s important to know how to communicate: An inadequate approach can see a situation descend into frustration, confusion, anger, and hurt.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn the skills that lie behind sound communication.

Whether you’re looking to enhance communication with a partner, colleagues, or friends, there are some basic approaches you might consider:

  1. Offering your full attention.
  2. Maintaining eye contact.
  3. Opting for a positive mindset.
  4. Aiming for a constructive discussion.
  5. Being open to different points of view.
  6. Considering your goal as the priority, not to “always be right.”

The way you communicate with your romantic partner — and they with you — is incredibly important.

Research repeatedly identifies unhealthy communication as a leading factor behind divorce, as seen in this 2018 research review and this 2012 study.

If communication is something you find a challenge, don’t worry. In addition to the points outlined above, you may find some specific approaches helpful to enhance interactions.

Actively listening before you start speaking

This involves more than just hearing words, and “can help you understand what people are saying,” explains relationship psychologist Mairéad Malloy. There are six skills involved, she reveals:

  • pay attention
  • withhold judgement
  • reflect
  • clarify
  • summarize
  • share

Wait until your partner finishes talking, then “demonstrate concern and paraphrase to show you’re engaged,” Malloy says.

But active listening requires more than just using your ears. “Use your body language and gestures to show you’re engaged,” suggests Malloy. She suggests angling your body toward them, sharing occasional nods, and maintaining eye contact.

You might say

“I understand where you’re coming from.”
“How did _______ make you feel?”

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Committing to being open and honest with your person

Being open and truthful is essential in building and retaining integrity and trust.

You don’t have to be afraid to share thoughts and feelings, even if you think your partner might not wholly agree.

If you’re broaching something you think might upset them, consider the best time to have the conversation and ways to approach it with kindness.

Being honest may also require you to feel vulnerable, which can be scary but, demonstrating vulnerability can help deepen your level of trust and connection.

You might say

“This is hard for me to talk about, but…”
“This is what I need to feel validated and understood. What do you need from me?”

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Observing nonverbal signals

Body language and other visual cues play just as important a role in communication as words. Facial expressions, tone, speed, and volume are indicative as well as this article’s section on tone and gestures in communicating explains.

You could look at what the rest of their body is conveying.

And you might note your stance, too. “If you don’t have the right posture and the right look that you’re paying attention, people pick up on it,” Malloy warns.

Good communication is about looking at the complete picture.

Staying focused on the here and now

When you’re in a relationship, minor gripes can slowly mount up: Perhaps your partner doesn’t put the toilet seat down, scatters dirty laundry throughout the house, or leaves toast crumbs over the countertop. But now is not the time to discuss them.

For productive communication, maintain your focus and keep the conversation on track. “It’s a good idea to simplify what you’re trying to say and stay on the message that you’re trying to communicate,” Malloy says.

Veering off-topic and adding criticism will only make your partner more defensive. As the tension mounts, there’s a chance one (or both) of you will say something you regret.

Leading with objectivity when talking through big decisions

If you’re discussing a topic you feel strongly about, it’s easy to let emotions take over. Instead, you can try to look at things from as much of an objective, impartial perspective as you can.

Found a house that you’re thinking of getting together? It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but when it comes to big decisions, it’s vital to look at the whole picture.

So, you might consider less emotionally-driven factors, such as whether you can realistically afford the repayments or if the rooms suit your present needs at a minimum.

It may be less glamorous, but you’ll be glad you did.

You might say

“Let’s look at this practically.”
“I know we feel _________, but what about _______?”

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Tabling a discussion when it gravitates toward an argument

Arguments rarely lead to a successful resolution. If you’re both steadfast or one of you starts stonewalling, don’t keep pushing your point.

It might be frustrating to feel like you haven’t resolved things at that moment, but “you need time to process your feelings,” says Malloy. If the communication sours, “take time out and set boundaries for when you go back to the conversation, depending on what it’s about.”

Remember, too, that we’re individuals with our own thoughts and beliefs. “Give space for the other person’s change, views, and opinions,” she adds. “Listen with compassion [and] be accountable.”

You might say

“Let’s pause for now and come back to this conversation when we’re both calmer.”
“I’d like to take a bit of time to gather my thoughts before we continue this discussion.”

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Remembering a little levity or gear shift usually helps reset

If things start getting a bit tense, injecting a touch of humor into the conversation can be a great way to provide relief and reset. It’s one approach that relationship expert Dr. John Gottman refers to as a “repair attempt”: A communication technique he credits as being a primary factor behind relationship success.

While relationships have their serious sides, they’re also meant to be fun. A friend or partner can be someone who imbues happiness and laughter, and that’s one reason you might love being with them. It’s about finding that balance.

Communicating is more than just taking turns talking

“Effective communication is more than just conveying a message. It focuses on the exchange of ideas to improve relationships and interactions,” affirms Malloy. “It’s about how we give and take verbally and nonverbally, back and forth, engaging and sharing ideas.”

We enter into interactions with a purpose, whether to:

  • spur an action
  • understand another person better
  • reach a resolution
  • share thoughts and emotion

You may be open to the fact that it may involve an unexpected outcome. Perhaps requiring an agreement, compromise, or forgiveness.

Communication is essential for relationships of all varieties to grow and thrive. But doing it well takes effort and awareness.

It’s helpful to consider all the elements required for successful communication. In fact, “in my opinion, good communication is less about talking and more about listening,” Malloy shares.

“Listening means not just understanding the words or information that’s being given to you, but also understanding the emotions the person is trying to convey.”

You can hone your skills and maybe inspire your partner to work on theirs, too. Hopefully, your relationship will reap the rewards.