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Good communication and stress management – strange bedfellows?

“Good communication” is all the rage these days in terms of the key to long-lasting relationships. How many times have you heard that at a wedding, in an advice column, or even from friends or family who have been together many years? But what exactly does it mean to be a good communicator, and how can that aid in stress management? While they may seem like an unlikely pair, the truth is if you can learn to express yourself in open, honest, and appropriate ways, you can also eliminate a lot of stress from your life.

Communication refers simply to the process by which information is exchanged between one or more people. Effective communication can help you avoid stressful situations and also resolve those situations once they arise. Effective communication is assertive, without being aggressive. You want to express your feelings openly and directly and encourage the other person to do the same. You also want to be careful not to let emotions get in the way of what you are trying to say, since this can lead to automatic, knee-jerk comments which are negative and attacking. This can result in you speaking or acting in either passive or aggressive (or both!) ways, which often can be received by the other person as “I count, you don’t count,” which is the last thing you want to be telling someone when you are trying to explain something important to you or seek resolution to a problem.

So how can you make sure you are being open and direct in your communication, unclouded by emotions? It’s easier than you might think, if you follow this four-step process:

1. Stop
2. Breathe
3. Reflect and look for your emotional “hook”
This is the automatic emotional reaction – the feeling (probably fear or anger) and response that causes you to use communication that is negative and attacking. Then ask yourself these questions:

(1) Am I responding to the real problem or my irrational belief/distorted thought? In other words, is there really a true problem, or is there a chance I could be jumping to conclusions or maybe even looking at this all wrong?
(2) Do I need to “win” this conversation? What purpose would it serve to win?
(3) Am I afraid to show any sign of weakness?
(4) Do I feel compelled to tell this person how wrong they are and set them straight? Would you be better off if the other person admitted s/he was wrong, you are right, and that’s it? Or would you be better served by gaining an understanding of each person’s point of view and then finding some middle ground or another way to reach an agreement?

4. Choose how you want to respond

Ultimately, effective communication reflects your ability to act out of choice and helps you deal with difficult situations by letting you express your feelings without losing control over them. You can use the four-step process to make sure you are expressing your feeling clearly and effectively, and also allowing the other person to do the same.

So how does good communication lead to lower stress? For starters, if you have positive communication skills, that likely means you will have fewer conflicts in your relationships with others. Fewer conflicts, of course, means lower stress. When you are able to communicate effectively in the way outlined above, you will also likely have stronger relationships, and that means you probably will have people you can count on, which has been proven to be an important part of lowered stress levels. Start to make some changes today in the ways you communicate with others, and see if it starts to make a difference in your overall stress level!

If you want to make positive changes in your communication skills (or any skills!), remember two things: keep trying and keep practicing. Making a change is a challenge, and you’re most likely to meet that challenge if you really commit to it, and also forgive yourself when you fall short. But if you keep working on putting those changes into place, eventually you will replace old communication methods with new ways that work better for you – and for those around you.

Good luck! If you have any questions or would like to add more to this conversation, please add a comment below. And if you think this post might help someone you know, please share it!