Communicating Effectively

The ability to communicate with others is one of the greatest assets of the human being. It is a great favor of the Almighty that a human being can express and convey to others what goes on in his heart and mind. This ability has allowed him to develop relationships and foster progress through the transferring of ideas and knowledge. Almighty Allah mentions this ability to communicate as one of the foremost bounties in Sura ar-Rahman. He says:
The Beneficent God. He taught the Qur’an. He created man. He taught him the mode of expression. (55:1-4)
In Hadithe Mufazzal, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a) says:
O Mufazzal! Consider the blessing of speech with which he [human being] is endowed by Allah the Almighty, which is the medium for the expression of his inner thoughts and his cordial feelings springing from his understanding, and with which he also understands the inner points of others. Without this faculty he would have been like quadrupeds, neither able to convey his own inner thoughts nor to understand the words of the speaker.
Communication is of vital importance in marriage. Effective communication improves the quality of a marriage. Many sociologists state that the ability to communicate is closely related to how satisfied people are with their marriage. The partners should be able to express themselves to each other. Communication is not only through words, but also through tones, gestures, and body language. Communication should be practiced often, to avert pent up resentment and anger. Sometimes couples use the excuse of lack of time as an excuse to avoid communicating frankly with one another. But those who desire to have a happy marriage should set aside some time each day, or at certain periods of time, for communication. A lack of communication is often the root source of problems in many relationships. Communication does not always have to be serious and negative. It should not be done only when things go wrong, for then the idea of communication sets off negative bells in the mind. When there is constant communication, simple talking over things and discussing together, the idea is received more positively.

Positive reinforcement through Communication

Spouses need positive reinforcement from each other. This means that when one spouse pleases the other, through words or actions, he or she is rewarded with similar behavior. A couple expects to enjoy reciprocal relations with each other. Whenever one partner unilaterally rewards the other, it is done with the confidence that this behavior will be compensated for in the future. This reciprocity, or give and take, develops a s a result of a history of positive reinforcement. When the husband pleases his wife, the wife is happier and is more likely to please him. This begins the cycle of positive reinforcement. When the partners fail to reinforce one another through positive communication, the marriage becomes an unhappy one. A wife may want, for example, that her husband spend more time at home with her. Instead of communicating that to him in a positive manner, and giving positive reinforcement which would make him want to be with her more, she may nag him and sulk and accuse him of ignoring her. This could elicit a hostile reaction, further distancing her husband away form her. This is faulty communication, with the wife trying to coerce her husband into being with her. Sometimes faulty communication results in a partner withdrawing emotionally from the other, thus setting up a barrier between the two. The partners need reinforcement from each other. Both of them need it but sometimes each is unwilling to provide it. Once the ground is broken, and one partner starts reinforcing the other, the cycle can begin and make the relationship much more satisfying.

Why communicate?

Why is communication so important. To establish a relationship – to preserve and nurture it – we have to do something about it. The following quote from the book Marriages and Families describes it succinctly:
How should one know that he is loved but by the way people act toward him: what they say, how they look, how they touch – in a word what they do. Attention, praise, spoken niceties, and physical contact have been demonstrations of love for years. Who cares if someone loves them if they never receive evidence through attention, contact or the spoken word? (pg.197)
The need for communication can be realized through the following four reasons:
  1. We need to be understood The fulfillment of a close relationship lies in the fact that we can share what is important to us with someone else. Our innermost thoughts and feelings, our emotions often kept concealed form others, are expressed in a close relationship.
  2. We need to discharge feelings Sometimes the stress which builds up from suppressed emotion can become quite unhealthy. It becomes a barrier to a happy marriage. We need to let off steam sometimes, relieve ourselves by unburdening the heart of the hurt that lies inside. Communication often alleviates friction. A problem may not magically disappear by talking about it, but it will at least release the tension between the couple and create an understanding of how it could be solved.
  3. We need to affect and influence the other partner Communication is not only for personal gain, but also to help the other party see our point of view. Without strong communication, a husband for example, may not be able to understand why the wife resents the time he spends in leisure activities away form home. Unless she explains how she feels about it, and reasons with him, there is little possibility that he may understand it fully.
When communicating we must make sure that we communicate our feelings, and not pass judgements. It is very easy to blurt out a hasty judgment when angered or hurt. This provokes resentment. It is better to express what one feels and convey that only. When we pass a judgement we make the other side defensive. But when we express our feelings, the other side is free to respond in whatever way he thinks fit. Feelings elicit a caring response, while judgement elicits prickly defensiveness. No-one likes to be attacked. Misunderstandings in communication can sometimes result when messages are not sent clearly. Both the message sent by the speaker, and the message received by the listener, are susceptible to error. The speaker has a thought or feeling which is expressed in words. This is his message. His tone of voice and body language affect the message. Sometimes a spouse feels very strongly about a certain issue but is unwilling to reveal it completely. Consequently the message sent may not be a very strong one, and could be received lightly. The fault does not lie with the listener, for the message was not sent correctly initially. Skillful communication requires that both partners try hard to send and receive messages clearly. Communicating honestly must not take brutal proportions. Sometimes extremely frank expressions of negative feelings can become callous. If necessary, this must be measured out in small and gentle doses, and balanced with positive comments and praise. It is necessary to respect the other person, and take into consideration potential dangers to their sense of self-esteem when communicating.

The art of Listening

Listening attentively is a gift we give to those we care for. One should try as much as possible to listen with the heart, not the intellect or memory. Hear what is said, believe it, understand it and try to appreciate it. These are the goals of attentive listening. When two people decide to solve a conflict, usually each one of them is intent on proving his point. Even when listening to the other side, they wait for comments that could be used in their response. Real listening consists of putting aside one’s own thoughts for a moment. Listen to understand the stand of the other party. Do not wait tensely for your turn, because this will immediately be felt by the partner. Watch your thoughts carefully for any inclination to dismiss what is being said, or to center on unimportant details, and miss the content. Effective listening is not to focus on one’s internal responses to the speaker, but to what the speaker is trying to communicate. The idea is to understand the other person, his feelings and realty he is expressing. Most people are very poor at effective listening. They want to change what the other side is thinking, and their focus is to disprove him. They think of the future, of what will be said after listening, rather than immerse themselves completely in the present, that of listening to the other . Guidelines for effective listening
  1. Do not interrupt
  2. Display signs that you are listening
  3. Listen with your heart.
  4. Listen without judging
  5. Accept even if you do not agree.

Obstacles to Communication

Although most couples do acknowledge the importance of effective communication, not all of them practice it as often as they should. Sometimes the spouses have mental attitudes which are barriers to healthy communication. The following are some factors which prevent communication between the spouses. Refusal to acknowledge a problem – It requires strength and will power to sit and talk about matters which are creating problems. This is because a lot of negative emotion is aroused in the process, resulting in emotional pain and anguish. Most people would like to avoid this, and prefer to ignore a problem, or dismiss it as temporary. Problems however, do not magically vanish into thin air. This illusion that a problem left on its own will ultimately disappear causes a lot of heartache in families. Unsolved problems often escalate and acquire huge proportions, making them even more difficult to resolve. It is best to acknowledge a problem in its infancy and take steps, however disagreeable, to communicate about possible solutions. Fear of possible consequences – Honest communication of one’s inner feelings may result in hurt feelings. The fear of this result induces partners to avoid it altogether. There is fear of the unknown, the unknown effect of expressing oneself honestly and frankly. It should be understood however, that positive communication, mostly leads to positive results. Even when communicating about a tension inducing problem, if the partners remember to respect one another and avoid offensive words, an agreeable result would occur. The more a couple communicates, the more skilled they become at it. Over the years it could become a natural and integral part of their married life. It is in the initial stages that they must overcome this fear initiate communication. Anxiety about self-disclosure – many people feel vulnerable when they express themselves too honestly. There is a fear of revealing oneself too much, of being rejected or scorned by those we love. Because most people suffer from a lack of self- esteem they do not consider themselves worthy of the close appraisal which effective communication could create. Thus they prefer to erect barricades around themselves, protecting themselves from too close an inspection. However, to be able to have a close relationship necessary for a happy marriage, these barriers will have to be eradicated. The partners will have to learn to trust each other, to be able to reveal themselves to one another. This helps not only towards communication, but also to improve oneself. Everybody has flaws which can be improved, and a defensive attitude deters self improvement. The genius of communication is the ability to be both totally honest and totally kind at the same time. John Powell