Communicate, communicate, communicate! It’s one of the favorite mantras of relationship counselors the world over. Whether you’re trying to solve issues with integrating your girlfriend’s boyfriend’s new lover into your poly family, planning a special activity with your spouse of 30+ years to help keep the home fires burning, or simply trying to get the mailroom clerk at work to deliver packages to the proper location, “good, clear communication” seems to be the suggestion on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Over and over we’re told that everything will work itself out…if we can simply communicate well. So we learn to use I statements, avoid the hyperbole that accompanies those pesky always/never comments, discuss how situations make us feel, and prioritize focused “talk/processing time.” Perhaps you even practice the art of “echoing” (What I hear you saying is…) to minimize the possibility of miscommunications. You’ve perfected the art of communication and, yet, life has failed to come together flawlessly and yield clear answers to all of your problems.
Truthfully, life is messy and even the best communicators can’t always rely on good communication skills alone to get them through the challenging periods (or the good ones, for that matter). Individuals in the kink, BDSM, and alternative sexuality communities seem to embrace the communicate mantra with a fervor, often to the detriment of learning other skills that may help in conflict resolution, intimacy building, and mutual understanding. We often assume communicating means “talking it out” and forget that good communication involves far more than words. True communication incorporates non-verbal elements as well. A smile, hug, or nod may do more to open someone up to your point of view than an hour of talking ever will; non-verbal elements often help to reinforce what you’re saying in a way that resonates with the person you’re speaking to. In fact, humans are programmed to prioritize and trust non-verbal responses over words in most situations. If you find your communication is falling flat, check out what your body language is saying.
Are you presenting a unified message? Is your mouth saying one thing, but your body saying other? Your conversation isn’t likely to get far if your partner finds your manner standoffish, domineering, or insincere regardless of how calm, engaging, and earnest the words exiting your mouth may be. If you’re truly interested in opening communication with another, you’ll need to display some very clear non-verbal indicators that you’re paying attention to your partner and eagerly awaiting their responses. Start by “opening up” your body position, sit or stand facing them directly without blocking your body by crossing your arms or hunching forward; this shows you are ready to engage them as an equal. Making eye contact helps to confirm that you’re interested and paying attention to what’s happening between you, so be sure to look at them directly. However, avoid staring, as such actions can be read as threatening and overbearing. The simple process of placing your body in a more open position can do wonders for advancing your communication with others.
However, it’s important to not only appear open to communication, but to actually make yourself emotionally and mentally receptive. An oft overlooked aspect of communication is connection. When most people talk about communicating what they really are attempting to accomplish is a sense of mutual understanding with their conversational partners. The process of communication is a means to an end. We use words in hopes that the person listening will get the meaning behind them. This means that you have to take time to attempt to see the point of view of the other person and evaluate the ways in which your actions and words may be interpreted. Making yourself vulnerable and showing you are willing to listen to constructive criticism, as well as praise, allows other to feel more open to constructive criticism coming from you.
While “talking it out” is a critical part of effective communication, it isn’t the only part. If you want to make sure your communication is at its best, remember to take into account what you’re saying beyond your words. Open up physically, mentally, and emotionally to those you wish to engage and your communicative efforts are sure to blossom.