Social contacts are very important for mental health. Family, friends and other people who make us feel good can help us deal with stress. Therefore, it can be worthwhile to think about your own communication patterns, because interpersonal communication is the basis of all relationships.
To do this, it is first important to realise that everyone sees the world through their “own glasses” and at the same time assumes that other people perceive the world in the same way. This is a fallacy, because our view of the world is shaped by all our experiences and by our personality. If you take this into account, it is often easier to clear up misunderstandings.
To benefit yourself and your counterpart in conversation, it is advisable to practise “active listening”. This method comes from client-centred conversation according to Carl Rogers. It requires a certain attitude and involves various actions:
- congruence: Try to “be with yourself”, notice your body, your breathing and your feelings in the current conversation situation.
- acceptance: Practice positive, appreciative attention. Try not to judge what you hear at first, but to understand the other person’s point of view. Do not interrupt the person you are talking to.
- empathy: Try to understand the feelings of the person you are talking to. Why is she or he feeling this way? How do you think it feels?
- paraphrase: Repeat the central points of what was said without judging. Phrases like “You mean…” or “Did I understand you correctly that…” can help. This may feel artificial or funny at first, but it helps to communicate empathetically and to give the other person the feeling that he or she has really been understood.
- first person messages: If you want to respond to what is being said and give your own perspective, use I-messages, e.g. by using phrases like “I think/believe…” or “To me, this feels …”.
- reflect: Reflect on what is said, as described in the point “Paraphrasing”, but also on the things you observe about your counterpart, such as posture and mood. For example, you could say, “You look sad” or “You seem very upset to me”.
Active listening requires some practice, but already incorporating aspects of it into conversations can be very helpful. Empathetic communication promotes a positive course of conversation in many situations, in conversations with work colleagues or superiors as well as with your partner or your children. It leads to a better understanding of oneself and one’s own reactions and gives the other person the feeling that one is honestly interested in his/her feelings and thoughts and is trying to understand them. Therefore, this partner-centred communication is well suited to improve and strengthen social relationships. (Source: Friedemann Schulz von Thun, “Miteinander reden”, rororo Sachbuch)