Relationships are challenging. They make you examine yourself from all angles, and that can be triggering. For example, have you ever had a friend or significant other say something that sparked an argument instantly—only to find out you misheard what they said in the first place?
Imagine what life would be like if you had the skills to completely avoid the majority of the arguments, disagreements, and confrontations you experience with the people in your life. You don’t have to run away from confrontation and bury your head in the sand in order to have peace in your relationships. There are simple steps you can take to develop your emotional awareness and intelligence to build stronger relationships that will help you navigate any communication landmines you find yourself in.
Here are three tips to get you started:
1. Check In
Even though the world is more connected than ever, feelings of loneliness are actually on the rise. UCLA conducted a study that found 76% of people exhibited serious signs of loneliness. Chances are, the people that you care about and the people who are important to you, are feeling lonely from time to time. One of the best things you can do for any relationship you have is check in to see how the other person is doing or feeling.
In a romantic relationship, this looks like putting your phone or computer down and giving your partner your undivided attention or asking them questions that give them the opportunity to open up to you. Questions like:
- How are you doing?
- How are things going with work?
- Did you have any wins today that we can celebrate together?
- How are you doing with that thing you told me about last week?
- You’ve got that thing coming up, how are you feeling about it?
- Is there something I can do to support you better?
In a work relationship or friendship, the questions are similar, but you can initiate the conversation over the phone, text, email, or whatever way you best communicate with the other person.
Checking in gives the people in your life an opportunity to be heard, and gives you the opportunity to shift things before big problems arise. This keeps you on the same page and moving in the same direction.
2. Implement Communication Standards
Communicating isn’t something that most people consciously think about when they’re speaking or typing—it’s just something they do on autopilot. How often do you really think through how someone might perceive the emoji you just sent? Typically, not that often, which can create some miscommunications and unnecessary arguments because it puts you in responsive mode.
The most important communication standard to implement is “the benefit of doubt plus verification” process. This means that when you’re communicating with someone, you take the position of “this person cares about me and wouldn’t intentionally say something to hurt me”. This first step creates some space before responding when someone in your life says something that triggers you or hurts your feelings. When you have a moment to remember that this person wouldn’t intentionally hurt you, it reminds you to clarify what they said. This is how you do that:
“Hey, I heard you say this. <Insert what they said>. And I took it to mean this <Insert what you believe they meant>. Is that what you were trying to get across?” More often than not, the other person will either clarify that the words you heard weren’t the actual words they said or that the meaning of the words was off the mark and they will explain.
Here’s why it’s important to keep your calm and verify: If you’re triggered and you go into why the other person is wrong or how they hurt you, it’s easy (and natural!) for the other person to get defensive. By verifying, you get to see where the communication breakdowns are happening and you get the opportunity to better understand each other. Wins all around.
3. Prioritize Growth
Growth is vital for success, especially in relationships. When things get stagnant, emotional bonds begin to break down. However, it’s important to avoid the self-help trap— that place where a lot of growth happens in your journal and you get massive “ah has!” during your reading time, but then it doesn’t translate into your actual behavior, expression, and relationships.
Here’s how to get all of your intellectual awareness implemented into your life, not just your talking points.
First, understand that patience is a non-negotiable. There are many moments where you’re going to be frustrated and you’re going to need to take a breather before actually communicating. That’s where your communication standards come in to support you.
Second, realize that your natural instinct is to defend yourself whenever your subconscious believes you’re under attack. When your emotions are triggered, it’s difficult for your mind to realize you’re not in physical danger. That’s why it’s easy to have an over-the-top reaction to something someone says to you instead of staying calm. By keeping this top of mind in your awareness, you can calm yourself down when you find yourself triggered and get out of defense mode.
Third, focus on finding solutions. Even if you end up in an argument, every conflict is an opportunity to make your relationship stronger. It’s easy to get along, play nice, and have surface relationships that don’t actually mean anything. But when you dig deeper and find places of divergence, you give yourself and the other person the opportunity to think about things differently, see other perspectives, and strengthen your love and respect for one another. How you handle conflict is more important than never getting into conflict in the first place.
These are the three foundations to strengthening your emotional awareness and intelligence so you can find more success in your relationships. It all starts with you, and when you learn the secrets to navigating your relationships with patience, understanding, and acceptance, you’ll find yourself surrounded with quality connections that truly last.