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As part of our blog series giving practitioner tips, today's article focuses on communication and relationships.  This article was written by Dr Alistair McBeath, Chartered Psychologist at the Craigie Partnership.

Poor communication is a primary cause of confrontation

At the heart of most relationship difficulties is one over-riding factor and that is poor or ineffective communication.  Some attempts at communication even seem to make matters worse. How does this happen?

Well, it happens surprisingly easily and the frustration, for many couples, is that the harder they try to talk about issues and difficulties the worse their situation seems to become.

When there is tension or discord in a relationship it is very easy for communication to move away from the issues of concern and, instead, take on a flavour of blame and even attack. For many people they simply don’t see this happening and the consequence is a real risk of escalating conflict and confrontation.

Probably one of the most basic factors underlying poor communication within relationships is a tendency for individuals to concentrate on what they want to say without thinking how to say it.  To illustrate this key point, let's look at four statement styles that are almost guaranteed to fuel conflict and confrontation.

Statement Styles

1. Using ‘You’ Statements

"You are so angry" - Using “You” statements does a few unproductive things – it tends to blame a person, it does not express how you feel about an issue and it avoids taking personal ownership of a problem.

Instead use “I” statements – for example, "When people shout at me I feel so hopeless."  This statement actually conveys useful information.

2. Universal Statements

"You never help with their homework" - universal statements don’t go anywhere. They suggest that a person can’t or won’t change. They state a problem not a solution. They are easily disproved or challenged – For example, "I helped with their homework last week."

Universal statements are almost always blaming statements and the fuel for further conflict.

3. Person not Problem Statements

"You are so stupid" - sometimes people are harder on the person than the problem;  they get sucked into a personal attack and forget about the real issue.

So, instead of - "You are so stupid" - it could be - "Laura was really worried when you forgot to pick her up from school."  Once again – this statement actually conveys useful and accurate information.

4. Statements that dismiss feelings.

"I don’t care if you’re angry – you are just overreacting."  By invalidating a strong feeling you increase the chances of negative thinking and conflict.   If you use statements that dismiss another’s feelings you have effectively already stopped communicating.

Poor communication gives very poor results.

Poor communication within relationships can deliver some truly unwelcome outcomes that may take a couple to a breaking point if not addressed. The most common outcomes of poor communication are – Confrontation, Avoidance or Silence.  If you are experiencing one or more of these then effective communication has truly failed.

The key to avoid such outcomes or to move back to more positive communication is the simple but quite difficult task of – thinking how you could say something - it might be more important sometimes than what you want to say.

There was a lot of truth in the line of the old song - "It ain't what you do (It's the way that you do it)".

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