Written by: Charneise Alston, M.Ed
Poor communication is poisonous to healthy relationships. When communication is ineffective, inconsistent, and insensitive, the listener is infected with feelings of frustration, hurt, and confusion. The emotional wounds caused by poor communication requires surgery and rehabilitation. Yes, the impact of words can cause severe injury if abused. Emotionally charged words spoken without respect is a weapon commonly used during disagreements. This destructive style of communication is juvenile and divisive.
However, I believe that mature individuals desire to communicate in a healthy manner. So, I created a model called Mature Communication to improve interpersonal relationships. Mature communication is a practice that requires the intention for maintaining relationships. Mature communication is more than an open, honest exchange. The gold standard of communication in which we all strive to achieve goes the extra mile by concentrating on delivery. If you want to be understood, the responsibility falls solely on your ability to adjust, adapt, and convey your message in a mature manner that will resonate with the listener.
There are four key components to Mature Communication which all focuses on delivery. Timing is one of the most significant elements to consider when delivering your message. You should be very conscious of when it is best to share your thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Everything should not be said in the moment which helps curb emotional impulses. It is wise to consider the other person’s state of mind and emotions before initiating your message.
For example, I tend to utilize the 48-hour rule if I dislike a bothersome behavior. If after 48 hours I am not agitated by the behavior, I choose to let it go. Please do not confuse this tactic with passive aggression or avoidance. Everything does not deserve a reaction and some things need to be quickly forgiven and forgotten. Once I discard the situation, it is not eligible to be used against my partner as a reference in the future. However, if after 48 hours I am still disturbed by the incident, I will initiate the discussion.
Passive aggression, shutting down, and avoidance are examples of reactive communication. When one does not willingly share their feelings, it is usually noticed in nonverbal cues such as body language. However, this is an immature way of communicating and very misleading because your partner, friend, colleague, or neighbor is not a mind reader. If something is troublesome, speak your mind.
The second component of Mature Communication is honesty. Being honest is a challenge for those who delicately avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Ironically, you can only control how you deliver a message and not how someone responds to your message. I would rather for someone to hurt me with the truth than comfort me with a lie. While I do think that it is important to be sensitive in your delivery, one must still be direct and honest to avoid sending mixed messages. Some conversations are harder to address than others but we must learn to not run from being uncomfortable. If the goal is to see improvement, the truth must shed light on the problem at hand.
Flexibility is another factor in Mature Communication. Keep in mind that what you want to say might open the door to additional and unanticipated concerns. Even if you have rehearsed your thoughts perfectly in your mind, environmental or emotional variables could influence the conversation. For example, the listener’s cell phone might ring in the middle of your discussion causing for the conversation to be revisited at a later time. Nothing ever plays out exactly how we have envisioned in our mind, allow your conversation to go with the flow.
Acceptance is the last part of Mature Communication. Everyone does not see things from your perspective, so be accepting of different interpretations, outlooks, and opinions without judgement. In addition, accept the fact that you cannot control what the listener does with your shared information. Also, accept that people need to process information in their own unique way. Therefore, you cannot expect immediate change or agreement.
Advanced communicators usually operate proactively. Proactive communicators do not require prompting. It is a refreshing, relief when you do not have to pry information from someone. Unlike reactive communication, there is no guessing as to how someone feels. On the contrary, they are able to candidly share their thoughts, opinions, and concerns regarding issues before a larger dilemma emerges. We commonly identify this style of communication as “Nip It In The Bud.”
The best and highest level of Mature Communication is foreshadowing. This type of preferred communication is solution-focused and forward-thinking. Potential problems are discussed and ideas are shared before an issue arises to fortify the future. This preventative style of communication requires great skill and practice for mastery. This ideal technique depends upon strategic preparation to avoid reactive responses. Foreshadowing is the blueprint to address life’s common problems beforehand in attempt to protect and strengthen the relationship. It is always best to prepare for war in a time of peace.
In closing, it is vital to not silence your pain. Your feelings are valid and you deserve to be heard. The power of your voice liberates and teaches others how to best interact with you in a healthy fashion. I no longer ignore what bothers me only to resent the pile of unaddressed issues swept under the carpet. Mature people communicate, period. Be assertive in addressing matters head-on. When you fail to express how you feel, you allow for someone else to create your narrative.
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
~Zora Neale Hurston~