Dear Therapist: I’m Hearing You Say My Communication Skills Need Work

Published on: 01 Jul 2015
Dear Therapist: I’m Hearing You Say My Communication Needs Work

When we think of communication, it may seem like there’s nothing to it, but it’s actually one of the most difficult things to do effectively. And, it can make a world of difference in every relationship we have once we learn how to do it better.

– by Talkspace User

When I first started therapy, I didn’t think my communication skills were that bad – I actually thought they were fairly decent. But, I quickly learned that there was much room for improvement. The thing is, people are different, and when it comes to communicating, especially in an emotional state, there’s a lot that could go wrong. Subjective experiences tend to interfere a lot more than I’ve previously realized, and our expectations can significantly cloud our understanding of the words coming out of someone else’s mouth.

I have been thinking a lot about how I interact with the trigger people in my life. I’ve always been pretty good about voicing what’s on my mind, and because I have some emotional intelligence – although a limited amount – I assumed I could effectively understand the emotions and reactions of others. While in some instances I did manage to do this successfully, for the most part, I was not as good at understanding what they were trying to say as I thought I was; even if I understood what they were feeling. This, of course, led to conflicts.

The problem with communication is that it’s actually really complicated. We may not think of it as such, but it is. And here’s why: First, there’s what we want to say. Then there is what we actually utter out loud. And then there is what the other person hears. Which is followed by how they interpret what they heard. If you think about this process for a moment, it becomes clear that there are many instances where miscommunication can happen. And it does. A lot.

I found this out the hard way, mainly by having frequent miscommunications, and then trying to figure out where things went wrong. However, when I started therapy, it suddenly dawned on me that my therapist and I didn’t really have a problem understanding each other, and it had a lot to do with how we interacted. I noted that when I would express a bunch of thoughts and feelings, I’d get, “I am hearing you say (enter: so and so). Is that correct?”, in response. It made a world of difference.

This small change in dialogue is an impressively far-reaching improvement as far as effective communication goes. By giving me non-judgmental feedback about how the information I put out there was interpreted, the therapist successfully created a lot of previously nonexistent room for me to edit my thoughts. It’s an extremely effective way of opening a stream of respectful dialogue without emotions overpowering the communication itself. Now that I have incorporated this tactic into my life, miscommunication is not really a problem.

Think about it like this: When people interact, incoming information tends to be interpreted and understood through the lens of subjective experience, which may consist of their personal histories, beliefs, values, apprehensions, and aspirations. This makes clarifying your thoughts and intentions especially important.

Effective communication happens once the people involved in a conversation make a sincere effort to understand each other, and this is one way of doing just that.

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Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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