The stress of the pandemic compounded by holiday pressures may have your household nearing a boiling point this week. Fortunately, effective communication strategies can help you tackle tough topics, express what you’re feeling, and ultimately, resolve some tension in your home. One place the Optimist Daily has found that offers some wonderful ideas is the Gottman Institute. Though this article was originally published in 2013, it beautifully lays out eight golden rules for communicating to reduce the stress that is just as relevant today:
- Take turns. Any effective communication has to give and take. It’s important to vocalize what you’re feeling and thinking, but it’s equally important to listen and understand what the other person has to say. Take turns speaking and acknowledge what your counterpart said before launching into your opinion.
- Avoid unsolicited advice. For many people, discussing what they’re going through is the most effective way to process a situation, but even if you have good tips to give, many people don’t want advice unless they ask for it. It’s okay to ask someone if they would like your advice, but keep your thoughts and suggestions to yourself unless someone requests your input.
- Show genuine interest. Being curious and seeking to understand someone else’s perspective is the best way to find common ground on an issue and develop empathy. Remain genuinely interested in your partner’s point of view.
- Communicate your understanding. Listening is important, but so is communicating that you understand. Verbally affirm that you heard what they said by mirroring their language. For example, if someone says “My mother really upset me today,” respond with “Tell me about what your mother did to upset you.” This offers compassion and avoids misunderstandings.
- Take your partner’s side. If your partner, housemate, or family member is in distress, express understanding and support. We are all feeling lonely right now, so vocalizing that you stand behind them and their feelings is important.
- Create an attitude of teamwork. Even though you may fight sometimes, your relationship with your partner, housemate, or family should feel like teamwork. Remember you are on the same side and both want what’s best for each other.
- Express affection. We all express and receive love in different ways. This affection could be a hug, telling your partner how much you value them, or simply getting them their favorite flavor of ice cream next time you go to the store.
- Validate emotions. We are often told to hide or overcome emotions like sadness, anger, or frustration. Rather than sweeping these feelings under the rug, acknowledge that we all feel this way at times, that it’s okay to feel these emotions, and that all feelings are valid, even unpleasant ones.
Difficult times bring up difficult conversations. If you find yourself addressing tough topics in your house, approach discussions strategically, and use these eight tips to have more productive and empathetic conversations.