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Effectively Communicating about "Problems"

All couples have problems and disagreements, so it's critical that they learn how to communicate about them in a way that will be helpful instead of making them worse. I do not believe that prescribing specific techniques for communicating is as helpful as focusing on the core attitudes behind the communication. My thoughts on effectively communicating about ANY difficult issue are in keeping with the ideas I used in the "assertiveness training" I did back in the 70s. What I learned was that I could tell people the correct words to use and correct body language, etc., to be "assertive"—but none of it worked unless it came from inside the person.

In other words, your ability to communicate has more to do with your attitudes and beliefs about your "right to know" and the degree of equality in the relationship (or lack thereof) and the degree of caring involved between the two people than in whatever actual words or techniques you use. All these things are FAR more important than the "skills." You can't just "put on the skills like a coat" and have them work. As I said, the words need to come as an outgrowth of an attitude of genuinely wanting to effectively work on whatever problem is being discussed.

Another similarity between learning how to effectively discusses a problem and how people learn to talk in an assertive manner is that even if you say everything "just right" (in accordance with the guidelines for using good communication skills), there is NO GUARANTEE that the other person will receive it in the way it is intended. (For instance, with assertiveness, someone could perfectly execute an "assertive" conversation and still have it be interpreted as being "aggressive.")

One way of determining the specific words that are more likely to be effective is to think in terms of the "ego states" as defined by transactional analysis: "parent, adult, and child." You'll have more likelihood of success by approaching the discussion from an "adult," problem-solving way of talking, while avoiding using the judgmental words of a "parent" or the emotional words of a "child."
For more information about Transactional Analysis, see the article:
Using T.A. in Dealing with Affairs.

The bottom line is that you don't need specific communication skills so much as you need to approach any conversation with a certain attitude: that the clear goal is to "improve the relationship" rather than to just "criticize" and/or "change" the other person. With that spirit, you have a better chance of success; without it, all the communication skills in the world won't be enough.

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