Communication Skills and Mental Health
In my work as a mediator and a counsellor, I have often seen how poor communication - whether intentional or inadvertent - can have very negative consequences on health and wellbeing, not only for the person on the receiving end, but also for the communicator and everyone else in the vicinity.
What do I mean by poor communication? In summary, communication which leaves the recipient feeling, confused, diminished or manipulated. The inevitable consequences of such communication are anger and fear. Once these genies are out of the bottle they affect everyone and it can be very difficult to get them back in.
Fortunately, it is also true that learning very simple changes to the way we communicate can vastly improve relationships.
I learned a lot about good communication skills from assertiveness training. You may think that training to be “assertive” is all about learning to get your own way. However, assertiveness is quite the opposite: an assertive person listens to and takes heed of other people’s feelings and opinions. I summarise assertiveness as:
having the ability to express your own feelings, opinions, desires and needs in an appropriate way, while
recognising and accepting that other people have feelings, opinions, desires and needs which may well be different from your own; and
encouraging and promoting assertiveness in others.
Whilst it is not always easy to reconcile differing feelings, opinions, desires and needs, it is my experience that when there is a respectful free flow of communication, people have better relationships, work together more successfully, and feel happier.
There are two aspects to assertiveness: learning how to communicate clearly and honestly ourselves, and learning how to to deal with and respond to other people’s confusing, aggressive or manipulative behaviour.
There are many simple techniques to learn which make both aspects of our communications more successful. In this article I just want to share a list of assertive “rights” which were given to me years ago by Gael Lindenfield, a self help expert and author. They are all expressed here as "I have the right to…", but remember that others have the same rights too.
Each of these rights is a counter to the negative messages and beliefs, conscious or unconscious, which block honest and open communication. To see what I mean, pick one of the rights and imagine someone saying “You don’t have the right to…”. How does that feel?
Understanding these rights and using them to guide our behaviour forms a solid basis for effective communication and healthy and happy relationships. They have helped me considerably over the years and I have passed them on to many of my counselling clients. I hope that you will find them useful too.
The more people who are confident and happy and able to communicate clearly and honestly the better for all of us: a rising tide lifts all boats!
List of assertive rights
I have put some brief comments on the rights in italics. Should you have any further queries about any of them, please get in touch.
I have the right to ask for what I want (realising that other people have the right to say “no”).
The corollory of this is that other people have the right to ask for what they want and you have the right to say “no”. This right is concerned with communication skills, not decision making. It is when people don’t feel able to say “no” that problems arise.
2. I have the right to have opinions, feelings and emotions and to express them appropriately.
3. I have the right to make statements which have no logical basis and which I do not have to justify.
Remember this right the next time a salesman asks you to justify your decision not to purchase his goods or services. The simplest answer to the question: “Why don’t you want to…?” is “I don’t”. If you try to justify your answer, you weaken your position and will get drawn into protracted discussions.
4. I have the right to make my own decisions and to cope with the consequences.
5. I have the right to choose whether or not to get involved with the problems of someone else.
This is very useful to remember when someone says something like: "You would do this for me if you cared about me" or "You are the only person who can help me”.
6. I have the right not to know about something and not to understand.
This is not about promoting ignorance: it is just affirming that, if you don't know or understand something, it is perfectly OK to say so and to ask for clarification. When you do, you may be surprised how often someone else will come up to you afterwards and say: "I'm glad you asked about that because I didn't have a clue what they were talking about”.
7. I have the right to make mistakes.
This is not about behaving rashly, but an acknowledgement that the fear of making mistakes is a major obstacle to personal growth. All successful people have made mistakes. They are an opportunity to learn and develop!
8. I have the right to be successful.
9. I have the right to change my mind.
10. I have the right to privacy.
11. I have the right to be alone and independent.
12. I have the right to change myself and be assertive.
Some of these statements may be things you already believe - ie they are statements which feel true for you. If there are some which don't feel true for you, then one way to convert these statements into beliefs is to regularly repeat them to yourself - your mind will soon relate them to experiences where they were or could be useful.
If any seem too hard to believe, try putting the words "What if" at the beginning: for example: "What if I have the right to be successful?”
There is a lot more to successful and effective communication, but I hope that you will find that these rights or beliefs are a good starting point.
If you would like to learn more about how you can communicate even more effectively, please get in touch.