For most of us, our social connections are the richest and most meaningful parts of being alive. As relationship psychologist Esther Perel says:
“The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.”
By following these golden rules of interpersonal communication, you can become a better friend, lover, and person.
1. Listen and Be Curious
Socially anxious people often feel like they have nothing to contribute to a conversation.
They think that what they say isn’t good enough or won’t mean anything to anyone else (This isn’t true of course, but bear with me).
If you’re the quiet one in the room, then I bet you’ve had people start speaking to you seemingly out of nowhere. They start telling you about their lives, their relationships, and maybe even their troubles.
They guess that if you aren’t talking, then you must be listening.
Two powers you have before you even have to speak a word are listening and curiosity.
Taking an interest in another person’s life is a tremendous gift to give them. To be heard and acknowledged by a fellow human being is a big deal, no matter who you are.
Not only will people appreciate that you care about what they have to say, but it will allow you to be more effective in your conversation: i.e., if you know what a person wants and needs, then you can negotiate your wants and needs too. And they will be more inclined to listen to you because you showed enough respect to listen to them.
Being curious (asking questions, making comments about what you know) helps people reveal themselves to you. They’ll start talking about their fears, desires, dreams, and goals. And when you’re talking about those soul-level topics, you’re forging deeper bonds.
Listening is an underrated superpower. And through being curious, you move past feeling like you need to be the one driving a conversation. When you’re listening, you’re actually driving the conversation.
Give people a chance. See what you can learn about them. Hear their stories and their perspectives.
And once you have material to work with (the other person’s life), you’ll finally know what you want to say.
2. Be Vulnerable and Honest
To be an effective communicator, it is not required that you become an open book.
You don’t have to share all aspects of your life and opinions. Privacy still matters.
However, it is easier for a person to hide themselves than to reveal what they think about current events, secret hobbies and passions, or their feelings for the person they’re speaking to.
We all generate a persona from our childhoods to help us navigate the social world and get our needs met. But if we let that persona dictate every social interaction we have and never allow ourselves to step into the light of vulnerability, we become isolated. Even around friends and family.
The real you, with all your flaws and controversial opinions and quirks and passions and qualities, needs to step outside your head to connect with anyone.
As psychologist Brené Brown says:
“Human beings are attracted to each other’s rough edges.”
If you only speak through a mask to get people to like you, then who really knows you? Can what you’re doing even be called communication?
Effective communicators are courageous enough to reveal themselves to others.
If you have a habit of being a social chameleon, then vulnerability will take practice. But the more you inch out into the light, you will not only find that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but that others will start revealing their rough edges to you too. And then, you’ll realize you aren’t alone.
3. Giving and Non-Neediness
Being loved is a need right?
Yes, it is one of the most crucial human needs. So, how could a person not be “needy” about one of the most important needs?
Some distinctions must be made here:
Neediness is a reflection of self-worth. We’ll define being needy in relationships as needing someone else to validate your worth. This sort of neediness comes as a result of not being able to generate your own self-worth.
Struggling with self-worth is a problem that can be addressed in therapy, but it is not something that you should outsource to others.
When you desperately cling to the approval of others, it’s like you become a beggar, waiting for them to toss you a scrap of their approval or attention.
You might find yourself creating covert contracts in your head, and becoming angry with others when they break your secret contract (i.e., “If I’m nice to a person, then they’ll HAVE to like me.”)
Effective communicators find their self-worth in their values, their character, and their true personalities. They have social needs, but they do not compromise themselves in the process of meeting those needs.
They spend time with people because they like them, not because they show them positive attention every now and then.
Curiosity is giving, and fishing for validation is begging. Helping a friend in need is giving, but helping them so that they’ll praise you for it is begging.
Of course, people don’t want to be leeched off of or scolded for being a part of some contract that they never agreed to. Neediness makes for shallow, one-sided relationships.
You can’t force others to love or like you. You can only put your best self forward and look for the people who resonate with that self.
Interpersonal Communication Is the Greatest Life Skill
The components of effective communication can all be learned and improved upon.
If you work on implementing these rules into your own relationships, you may discover an openness with others you’ve never experienced, or you’ll cease to be socially afraid, or you’ll discover a new potential for relationships that you never knew existed.
Just remember these simple principles:
- Listening and curiosity are incredibly powerful.
- Vulnerability is the key to relational depth.
- Relationships are about giving, not begging.
Apply these principles, start creating awesome relationships, and start feeling the magic of being alive.