Good communication critical to healthy relationships

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines communication as “the act of using words, sounds and behaviors to exchange or express your thoughts, ideas, feelings etc., to someone else.” Communication is the vehicle by which we connect to others and shape the quality of our relationships. Without understanding the different types of communication, one may actually be communicating a message unintentionally.

The use of words can be transmitted orally, visually, orEmotionWellness in written form. Words are important, but nonverbal modes of communication, which include body language, eye contact and facial expressions, account for up to 55 percent of communication.

Paralanguage is a form of communication based on the way something is said as opposed to what is actually said. This includes tone of voice, emotion, and style of speaking, which can account for up to 38 percent of communication.

Visual communication is also nonverbal and may include factors such as appearance, creative arts, and symbols. Written communication involves use of documents, emails and texts for messaging.

It is through all forms of communication that we get to know people and connect on an emotional or physical level. In order to avoid misunderstanding, confusion and hurt, Angela Wiley, Ph.D., from the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois, suggests the following strategies for communication:

  • Keep it soft
  • Keep it safe
  • Keep it positive

She defines “keeping it soft” as the use of humor and playfulness as opposed to aggression or criticism when communicating. This can be especially helpful during times of conflict and turmoil.

“Keeping it safe” refers to promotion of an environment of mutual support and validation. Blame and sarcasm have been associated with unstable and dysfunctional relationships.

Ways to “keep it positive” include demonstrating interest and understanding as opposed to alienation and rejection.

It is highly likely in relationships that at some point conflict and disagreement will develop, and it is how you manage the conflict that determines the stability in your relationship. Conflict can be viewed as an opportunity to gain deeper knowledge and understanding of each other.

However, without effective communication skills, the conflicts may develop into increased negative interpretations, insults, alienation and isolation. There are a number of factors that impact one’s ability to communicate effectively in relationships, especially during conflict.

Listening actively to the perceptions, feelings and thoughts of others, both verbally and nonverbally, demonstrates your interest and connection in the relationship. One’s ability to be honest by matching words with actions — doing what one says one will do — is critical in healthy relationships.

This is closely aligned with empathy, the ability to understand and have compassion for the feelings of others. In order to ensure that you understand the meaning of the communication, you may need to ask for clarification. If the communication is still unclear, you may use reflection, paraphrasing, or restating what you think you hear.

In order to understand our own communication skills, self-awareness is required. Our judgements and assumptions, based on history, race, gender, education and religion, can shape our communication styles. An accurate appraisal of our own verbalizations can be the starting point for looking at the effectiveness of our communication skills.

Rate your communication skills on the following 1-4 scale where 1 indicates poor performance on the statement, 2 represents fair, 3 represents good and 4 means excellent. To understand how you are perceived by others, ask someone with whom you have a close relationship to also rate you and compare your scores. High scores indicate areas of strength in your communications while low scores represent areas for improvement.

Our interactions with others are a training ground for the development of communication skills in our children. They learn how to communicate based not only on how you communicate with them but also on how you communicate with others. Are you a role model of healthy communication?


 Rate your communication skills 1. Poor 2. Fair 3. Good 4. Excellent
I use good eye contact when communicating
My words reflect my actions
I easily understand the feelings of others
The tone of my communications is positive
I am an attentive listener
When I am unclear, I ask the speaker for clarification
I avoid judgement and criticism when communicating
I pay attention to the body language of others when they are speaking
I am able to share my feelings with a trusted friend
I am able to respect the opinions of others even when they are different from mine.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, these resources are available: Child Crisis Team, 612-348-2233; Adult Crisis Team (COPE), 612-596-1223; Acute Psychiatric Services (APS) (HCMC), 612-873-3161; Suicide Prevention Hotline, 612-873-2222; Emergency, 911.

If you are interested in learning more about the mental health services at NorthPoint Health and Wellness, call Dr. D.A. Golden at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Clinic, 612-543-2705.