Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships


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What is effective communication?

The Key to Communication in Relationships | Tony Robbins

The following examples bring together facework strategies, cultural orientations, and conflict management style: Someone from an individualistic culture may be more likely to engage in competing as a conflict management strategy if they are directly confronted, which may be an attempt to defend their reputation self-face concern. Someone in a collectivistic culture may be more likely to engage in avoiding or accommodating in order not to embarrass or anger the person confronting them other-face concern or out of concern that their reaction could reflect negatively on their family or cultural group other-face concern.

While these distinctions are useful for categorizing large-scale cultural patterns, it is important not to essentialize or arbitrarily group countries together, because there are measurable differences within cultures. Culture always adds layers of complexity to any communication phenomenon, but experiencing and learning from other cultures also enriches our lives and makes us more competent communicators. Conflict is inevitable and it is not inherently negative.

A key part of developing interpersonal communication competence involves being able to effectively manage the conflict you will encounter in all your relationships. One key part of handling conflict better is to notice patterns of conflict in specific relationships and to generally have an idea of what causes you to react negatively and what your reactions usually are.

Much of the research on conflict patterns has been done on couples in romantic relationships, but the concepts and findings are applicable to other relationships. Four common triggers for conflict are criticism, demand, cumulative annoyance, and rejection. Andrew Christensen and Neil S.

Comments do not have to be meant as criticism to be perceived as such. Gary, however, may take the comment personally and respond negatively back to his mom, starting a conflict that will last for the rest of his visit. Demands also frequently trigger conflict, especially if the demand is viewed as unfair or irrelevant. Tone of voice and context are important factors here.

As we discussed earlier, demands are sometimes met with withdrawal rather than a verbal response. If you are doing the demanding, remember a higher level of information exchange may make your demand clearer or more reasonable to the other person. If you are being demanded of, responding calmly and expressing your thoughts and feelings are likely more effective than withdrawing, which may escalate the conflict. Cumulative annoyance is a building of frustration or anger that occurs over time, eventually resulting in a conflict interaction.

For example, your friend shows up late to drive you to class three times in a row. Criticism and demands can also play into cumulative annoyance. We have all probably let critical or demanding comments slide, but if they continue, it becomes difficult to hold back, and most of us have a breaking point. The problem here is that all the other incidents come back to your mind as you confront the other person, which usually intensifies the conflict. A good strategy for managing cumulative annoyance is to monitor your level of annoyance and occasionally let some steam out of the pressure cooker by processing through your frustration with a third party or directly addressing what is bothering you with the source.

No one likes the feeling of rejection. Vulnerability is a component of any close relationship. When we care about someone, we verbally or nonverbally communicate.

We may tell our best friend that we miss them, or plan a home-cooked meal for our partner who is working late. The vulnerability that underlies these actions comes from the possibility that our relational partner will not notice or appreciate them. When someone feels exposed or rejected, they often respond with anger to mask their hurt, which ignites a conflict.

Managing feelings of rejection is difficult because it is so personal, but controlling the impulse to assume that your relational partner is rejecting you, and engaging in communication rather than reflexive reaction, can help put things in perspective.

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Concepts discussed in Chapter 2 "Communication and Perception" can be useful here, as perception checking, taking inventory of your attributions, and engaging in information exchange to help determine how each person is punctuating the conflict are useful ways of managing all four of the triggers discussed. Interpersonal conflict may take the form of serial arguing A repeated pattern of disagreement over an issue.

Serial arguments do not necessarily indicate negative or troubled relationships, but any kind of patterned conflict is worth paying attention to. There are three patterns that occur with serial arguing: repeating, mutual hostility, and arguing with assurances.


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The pattern may continue if the other person repeats their response to your reminder. A predictable pattern of complaint like this leads participants to view the conflict as irresolvable. The second pattern within serial arguments is mutual hostility, which occurs when the frustration of repeated conflict leads to negative emotions and increases the likelihood of verbal aggression.

Again, a predictable pattern of hostility makes the conflict seem irresolvable and may lead to relationship deterioration. Whereas the first two patterns entail an increase in pressure on the participants in the conflict, the third pattern offers some relief. If people in an interpersonal conflict offer verbal assurances of their commitment to the relationship, then the problems associated with the other two patterns of serial arguing may be ameliorated. Even though the conflict may not be solved in the interaction, the verbal assurances of commitment imply that there is a willingness to work on solving the conflict in the future, which provides a sense of stability that can benefit the relationship.

Although serial arguing is not inherently bad within a relationship, if the pattern becomes more of a vicious cycle, it can lead to alienation, polarization, and an overall toxic climate, and the problem may seem so irresolvable that people feel trapped and terminate the relationship. There are some negative, but common, conflict reactions we can monitor and try to avoid, which may also help prevent serial arguing.

Two common conflict pitfalls are one-upping and mindreading. John M. Gottman, What Predicts Divorce? One-upping Quick reaction to communication from another person that escalates conflict. Mindreading Communication in which one person attributes something to the other using generalizations, usually leading to a defensive response that escalates conflict. Remember concepts like attribution and punctuation in these moments.

Nicki may have received bad news and was eager to get support from Sam when she arrived home. Mindreading leads to patterned conflict, because we wrongly presume to know what another person is thinking. Validating the person with whom you are in conflict can be an effective way to deescalate conflict. As with all the aspects of communication competence we have discussed so far, you cannot expect that everyone you interact with will have the same knowledge of communication that you have after reading this book.

But it often only takes one person with conflict management skills to make an interaction more effective. Now we turn to a discussion of negotiation steps and skills as a more structured way to manage conflict. We negotiate daily.

5 Essentials to Having a Healthy Relationship

We may negotiate with a professor to make up a missed assignment or with our friends to plan activities for the weekend. Negotiation in interpersonal conflict refers to the process of attempting to change or influence conditions within a relationship. The negotiation skills discussed next can be adapted to all types of relational contexts, from romantic partners to coworkers.

The stages of negotiating are prenegotiation, opening, exploration, bargaining, and settlement. In the prenegotiation stage, you want to prepare for the encounter.


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If possible, let the other person know you would like to talk to them, and preview the topic, so they will also have the opportunity to prepare. Can we sit down and talk tomorrow when we both get home from class? In that case, you can still prepare, but make sure you allot time for the other person to digest and respond.

Functional Aspects of Interpersonal Communication

During this stage you also want to figure out your goals for the interaction by reviewing your instrumental, relational, and self-presentation goals. Is getting something done, preserving the relationship, or presenting yourself in a certain way the most important?

For example, you may highly rank the instrumental goal of having a clean house, or the relational goal of having pleasant interactions with your roommate, or the self-presentation goal of appearing nice and cooperative.

Whether your roommate is your best friend from high school or a stranger the school matched you up with could determine the importance of your relational and self-presentation goals. At this point, your goal analysis may lead you away from negotiation—remember, as we discussed earlier, avoiding can be an appropriate and effective conflict management strategy. If you decide to proceed with the negotiation, you will want to determine your ideal outcome and your bottom line, or the point at which you decide to break off negotiation.

In the opening stage of the negotiation, you want to set the tone for the interaction because the other person will be likely to reciprocate. Generally, it is good to be cooperative and pleasant, which can help open the door for collaboration. There should be a high level of information exchange in the exploration stage. The overarching goal in this stage is to get a panoramic view of the conflict by sharing your perspective and listening to the other person. In this stage, you will likely learn how the other person is punctuating the conflict.

Although you may have been mulling over the mess for a few days, your roommate may just now be aware of the conflict. The information that you gather here may clarify the situation enough to end the conflict and cease negotiation. If negotiation continues, the information will be key as you move into the bargaining stage.

The bargaining stage is where you make proposals and concessions. The proposal you make should be informed by what you learned in the exploration stage. Flexibility is important here, because you may have to revise your ideal outcome and bottom line based on new information. If your plan was to have a big cleaning day every Thursday, you may now want to propose to have the roommate clean on Sunday while you clean on Wednesday. You want to make sure your opening proposal is reasonable and not presented as an ultimatum.

Can we agree to not leave any dishes in the sink overnight? If there are areas of disagreement, however, you may have to make concessions or compromise, which can be a partial win or a partial loss. If you both hate doing dishes, you could propose to be responsible for washing your own dishes right after you use them. If you really hate dishes and have some extra money, you could propose to use disposable and hopefully recyclable dishes, cups, and utensils.

In the settlement stage, you want to decide on one of the proposals and then summarize the chosen proposal and any related concessions. It is possible that each party can have a different view of the agreed solution. If your roommate thinks you are cleaning the bathroom every other day and you plan to clean it on Wednesdays, then there could be future conflict. Is that right? Have you ever been at a movie and let out a bellowing laugh and snort only to realize no one else is laughing?

Have you ever gotten uncomfortable when someone cries in class or in a public place? Anita L. This definition includes several important dimensions of emotions. First, emotions are often internally experienced through physiological changes such as increased heart rate, a tense stomach, or a cold chill. These physiological reactions may not be noticeable by others and are therefore intrapersonal unless we exhibit some change in behavior that clues others into our internal state or we verbally or nonverbally communicate our internal state.

Sometimes our behavior is voluntary—we ignore someone, which may indicate we are angry with them—or involuntary—we fidget or avoid eye contact while talking because we are nervous. When we communicate our emotions, we call attention to ourselves and provide information to others that may inform how they should react.

For example, when someone we care about displays behaviors associated with sadness, we are likely to know that we need to provide support.

Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships
Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships
Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships
Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships
Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships
Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships
Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships
Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships Back to the Basics: The Essence of Communication in Relationships

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