This post is part of a series on Featured Topics, topics that are commonly asked about and addressed in therapy. Click here for previous posts.
In the age of social media, we spend a lot of time saying a lot of things, having a lot of opinions, and letting others know when we agree or disagree with virtually any stance on any topic. We send endless texts, GIFs, Snapchats, and more in an attempt to connect with friends and family. But are all these words and images effectively communicating? Do they get our point across in a loving manner? Are they helping or hurting? This is Communication 101: Tips for Communicating in a Hyperinvolved Society.
1. Communication goes deeper than words.
Body language, tone, openness, empathy…these are all things that go into letting another person know our experiences, thoughts, feelings, and intentions. It’s very important to take more than content or words into account when being a good communicator. A lot of this comes from empathy, being able to put aside your own views and seek to understand the experience of the other person. Most people talk about their opinion, then while the other person is sharing their opinions, we’re thinking about what we want to say next. Try listening - without judgement - to what the other person is saying while they speak. It’s ok if you disagree (or even if they’re wrong!). Just listen. People start to heal and soften the moment they feel heard.
2. Own your experience - don’t talk about theirs.
Good communication begins with “I-Statements”. These are sentences that own your own experience instead of shifting the focus or blame onto someone else. Try using this formula: “I feel ___________ when ____________. I need _________.” This may work more smoothly in face-to-face communication rather than over the internet, but the principle is the same: You take ownership and responsibility for your actions and your emotions - not anyone else’s. Example: “I feel hurt and dismissed when you accuse me of lying to you. I need you to try to respect where I’m coming from.” This gets easier and more natural as time goes on, but try not to shift the blame or responsibility onto anyone else. But just “fighting” ends up creating a larger rift - and isn’t the goal of communication to create more understanding?
3. The role of emotion
Real communication can only take place when emotions aren’t high. When emotions come into the equation and get too activated, it becomes the only thing the other person hears. For example, if you’re talking with a friend about a political issue very close to their heart, and they begin to get angry, after a minute, all you can hear is anger, their viewpoint (whether you agree with it or not!) gets obscured in the emotion. For effective communication to take place, especially communication between people who have differing viewpoints, it’s essential to stay open, curious, and connected. Once strong emotion comes in, it takes over content and meaning as the most dominant part of the communication process.
4. Know when to take a break
Emotions rise, things get heated, you’re about to burst… Take a break before you get to the point of no return. We’ve all had the experience of saying something we regret - especially if all you do is hit “enter” or the send button. If you can feel yourself getting agitated, take a break. If you’re communicating via technology, that’s pretty easy - set a timer for yourself, close the app or webpage, and go do something else for a while. Take a walk, get a drink of water, wash a plate, whatever you have to do. Get your body involved in this activity - light activity can help the brain re-regulate when it’s getting worked up. If you’re communicating with someone in person, you can still take a break, it’ll just be more obvious. Excuse yourself to the restroom for a minute, run the water over your hands, breathe slowly, and try to calm yourself. If that doesn’t work after you return, you can explicitly tell your friend or family member “I’m feeling a little worked up, and I want to make sure I can really listen to you when we talk; let’s take a break and come back to this a little later.” This may throw some people off, but maintain that boundary.
Good communication takes practice. It’s not enough to form coherent sentences and to have an opinion - connecting on a deeper level, using empathy, and showing the other person that you value them is necessary to effectively communicate your thoughts, ideas, and experiences.
Megan Bonynge is a trauma therapist intern in Orange County working under supervision. She specializes in EMDR therapy, PTSD, dissociation, and eating disorders. She is trained in early EMDR intervention for very recent traumas. Megan also teaches part time at Cal State Fullerton.