Strategies to Communicate and Maintain Relationships
It's the season of gatherings. For many this is a time to relax and connect with those who are closest to us. But for many of us, gatherings of family, friends, co-workers and neighbors include tension and frustration.
Although these are the people with whom we have close ties, they are often also the people with whom we've got built up anger, hurts and resentments. You may find yourself sitting at a family meal with someone who you feel doesn't respect your opinion, has made offensive comments or has not responded when you've reached out or been in need of help.
It is easy to be thankful and warm when you're calm and surrounded by people you like and care about. But it can be extremely difficult to express how you feel and stand up for yourself when you're hurt and angry. It's during times when we're hurt and angry that we often behave in ways that we later regret. We might say or do things that cause long term damage to our relationships.
Honest and open communication are essential elements of intimate relationships, whether it's with family or friends. But, knowing how to communicate and get your needs met while still maintaining relationships is crucial.
In Linehan's (1993) skills manual, she outlines how to communicate in ways that improve understanding and maintain long term relationships.
- Be gentle in your approach. Even if you feel someone has treated you poorly, don't attack and threaten. Be gentle in how you think about the person and in the words and tone that you use when you talk to them. When in doubt, be courteous. Use this same approach in your thoughts about yourself. Maybe you've offended someone, spoken in anger, said things you didn't mean or embarrassed yourself. Be gentle in your thoughts towards yourself. Self-recrimination will leave you feeling guilty and irritable. If your actions require apology, then apologize and move on. Don't be overly harsh towards yourself of anyone else.
- Act interested. You don't have to be interested, but if you can nod, hear someone out without interrupting, listen to their point-of-view and ask questions of someone they are much more likely to do the same with you. You may even find that if you act interested you become interested.
- Validate and acknowledge people's feelings, struggles and point-of-view. You don't have to agree with someone or believe that they are right to communicate to them that you understand how they are feeling. Sometimes all people want is to know that you hear and understand them.
- Don't forget to relax, smile and keep things light. Be easy and light-hearted if possible.
It's important to stand up for yourself, express how you feel and get your needs met. At the same time, it's essential to maintain relationships. If the holidays are frequently a time of tension or conflict for you, practicing approaching difficult situations with moderation, curiosity and consideration may help diffuse differences and improve long term relationships.