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Communication, Conflict & Commitment

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Introduction: Communication is a Key to Success

"You cannot, not communicate."
- Unknown

"People change and forget to tell each other."
- Lillian Hellman

Communicating poorly does not always stop couples from falling in love or even from getting married, but it does make it difficult for them to remain happy in their relationship over time. Researchers have found that effective communication predicts relationship satisfaction and engaged couples who communicate effectively have more stable and satisfying relationships when married. The most common couples communication problems include: not listening, blaming, criticizing and/or nagging, not responding to issues as they emerge, using the silent treatment, and using coercion or physical threats. This module provides some ideas and activities to help you avoid these communication problems and to remain connected.

Question : How important is communication in good relationships?

Answer : Very important. This seems pretty straightforward. No one has ever developed a good relationship with someone else without communicating well with them in some way.

Question : How important is communication in bad relationships?

Answer : Very important. It may seem a bit odd that the answer to both of these questions is "very important," but it is true. Think about someone you have strongly disagreed with or don't seem to get along with. One of the reasons you have not gotten along with that person is because communication has been poor, either on your part, or theirs, or more likely both of you. The communication you did have was either too little, too much, misunderstood, hurtful, critical or upsetting. Communication really is a key to both good and bad relationships. Fortunately, we can learn to improve our communication skills to make all of our relationships better.

Communication is at the heart of all intimate human relationships. Communicating is the way that we create and share meaning with one another. In fact, it is impossible not to communicate. Someone wisely said, "We cannot, not communicate." No matter what we are doing we are communicating something. Even when we are asleep we may be sending the message, "I'm tired, so don't bother me."

Part of Communication

Good communication has two parts:

  1. Skillful Sending of Messages
  2. Skillful Receiving of Messages

Skillful Sending

Skillfully sending messages involves:

  • Being Clear
  • Being Concise
  • Being Straightforward
  • Being Good Intentioned
  • Sending them in the Appropriate Dose
  • Sending them at the Appropriate Time

Yelling something from one room to the next is not the best way to communicate with someone. It would be better to go to where the person is that you want to talk to, make eye contact with them so you know they are paying attention, and then speak to them. You may even want to touch the person on the shoulder or knee as you speak to them to make sure you are connected.

Skillful Receiving

Skillfully receiving a message involves:

a. Listening With Your Heart, Head, Eyes, and Ears
Unfortunately, many of us do selective listening, which means we only hear what we want to hear. We sometimes use selective listening when we don't really want to hear what someone is saying or when we already think we know what they are going to say. There are some situations where this might be a valuable skill to have. However, ignoring, or not hearing, your partner and other people you care about will only damage the relationship. In order to listen effectively you should stop other distracting activities and pay attention to the words and non-verbal messages (tone of voice, gestures, etc.) that are sent. An example of this is the child who observed that her father was not truly listening to her and said, "Daddy, I want you to listen with your eyes." You should also listen with the intention of finding common ground, or things you agree on, rather than points to disagree on.

Three types of listening you can do to show people you are paying attention to what they are saying and really want to hear it are:

  • Silent Listening - Give a non-verbal response while the other person is speaking.
  • Nodding = "I hear you."
    Eye contact = "I'm with you."
    Smiling = "Wow!"

  • Supportive Listening - Make short responses to encourage the other person to continue.
  • "Oh, really?"
    "Is that right?"
    "I see what you mean."

  • Promptive Listening - Ask open-ended questions to invite the other person to share more.
  • "What happened then?"
    "Tell me more."
    "What else do you know?"
    "What does that mean to you?"
    "How does that make you feel?"

b. Reflecting or Summarizing What You Heard

This means making sure you correctly heard what was said. One of the best ways to do this is to restate in your own words what you heard and then ask the person who said it if that is correct. It is not necessary or expected that you would do this in all of your conversations, but it is important to do at critical times (e.g., resolving an argument or emotionally charged discussions).

c. Finding Common Ground

Many of us have grown up learning to be a little bit combative or confrontational in our communication. We want to get our point across and we prefer things to go our way. Sometimes we don't listen, or only half-way listen, to what someone is saying to us because we are anxiously awaiting our chance to respond and have our opinions heard. If you find yourself thinking more about how you want to respond than to what the other person is actually saying remember that we have two ears and one mouth. A key to communicating well is to use them accordingly.

Listening to find common ground means looking for points of agreement instead of findings points of disagreement in your conversations. It is a cooperative rather than a competitive process.

Sometimes we will be in agreement with everything that someone said to us. This is called Total Agreement.

Sometimes we will disagree with everything that someone said to us. This is called Total Disagreement.

Most of the time we agree with parts of what someone said to us, but not everything. This is called Partial Agreement. This is probably the most common type of conversation we will have, which isn't a bad thing. The problem is that many of us ignore the part of the conversation we agree with and latch on to the part that we disagree with.

The key is to look for areas of agreement, even if it is only partial agreement. When we agree with someone, even if it is only a little bit, this gives us common ground, which is a starting point to build the relationship.

Common Ground Model of Communication

Communication Model

Types of Communication

In order to skillfully send and receive messages it is important to understand the relationship between verbal and non-verbal communication.

  • Verbal Communication - Verbal communication includes any spoken words.
  • Non-verbal Communication - Non-verbal communication includes things like facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, movement, touch, how close you stand to someone when speaking to them, posture, and sounds we make that aren't really words (e.g., grunts, sighs, yawns, tapping our fingers).

Communication experts estimate that about 65% of all face-to-face communication is non-verbal. That means that more of the meaning of the things we say is transmitted in the way we say it than in the words themselves.

Help! I'm Confused.

Sometimes the verbal and non-verbal messages that we either send or receive do not match up. This is called a mixed message. Mixed messages are confusing because we hear one thing but we feel something else. To communicate clearly, we should generally make sure that what we say and what we do go together.




Couple Communication Quiz

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, December 09). Communication, Conflict & Commitment. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License