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Healthy communication

The 21st century is all about communication. Today’s technology has created a fascinating world that allows us to connect with one another quickly and at any time. However, for many, “the task of communicating” remains a complex and tedious challenge. Preconceived notions, your feelings about a situation and lack of communication skills can be significant barriers to the relationship you wish to build with your loved one and those around you.

How do you go about it? What should you say? What attitude should you adopt? What should you avoid? Here are a few tips to guide you.


What are the golden rules I should follow?

Always remember that communication with your loved one takes place verbally (through speech) or non-verbally (through attitudes and behaviours). In addition, when communicating with them, your ability to listen is as important as your ability to express yourself.

Quality communication is determined by two major factors :

  • The clarity of your message
  • The ability to understand the person you are speaking to

In order to create a good rapport with your loved one, you need to address one another as equals. You need to listen actively, so you will be able to rephrase what they are saying. For example, you can say something like: “If I understand correctly, what you mean is…” This will prevent you from misinterpreting what they have to say. Here are some essential rules, in addition to the basics we just discussed.

  1. Choose a time and place that is conducive to communication. You should choose a time when you are both available and ready to lend your attention. Sometimes, it may be necessary to schedule a meeting to ensure you will be heard.
  2. Learn to respect one another. This rule refers to the fact that you need to be clear in communicating your expectations and boundaries. You are just as important as the other person. That being said, feel free to interrupt the discussion if it gets too heated.
  3. Use “I” when speaking, rather than “YOU”. Using “I” allows you to share your feelings and beliefs without making accusations. Use phrases like “I feel…” and “I believe…” This method does not engage the other person’s feelings.
  4. Acknowledge the other person’s experience. Your loved one’s experience may differ from your own. Because both of you feel differently about the events you experience, you will have to distinguish between your feelings and those of your loved one.
  5. Avoid judgements, accusations and blame. Avoid communicating in a way that makes the other person feel inferior or as if their experience is not valued. In order to truly listen, certain traps must be avoided, such as lecturing, giving orders, imposing solutions, judging, blaming or misinterpreting what your loved one has said.
  6. Do not let your feelings build up. It is important to share what you are feeling on a regular basis. Doing so will keep resentment, misunderstanding and frustration from building up. When issues are resolved quickly, you are less likely to get angry and regret it later.
  7. Avoid taking responsibility for the other person’s needs or desires. Unless there is an emergency, you are not responsible for your loved one’s needs. By not doing things for them, you encourage them to be independent and take charge of their life. It is important that they view your relationship as one of equality.


What should I do if my loved one won’t talk to me?

Despite your attempts to communicate with your loved one, they may not want to talk to you. Unfortunately, you cannot force them to communicate. In fact, the more you insist, the more difficult your relationship will become.

Respect their right to not communicate. Your loved one may have difficulty decoding verbal messages. To make it easier for them, it is important to use sentences that contain only one message. For example: “Vincent, I want you to turn off the radio.” Make sure they are listening when you speak to them. To do this, make eye contact and, if necessary, patiently repeat what you have just said. You should do your best not to criticize them.


What are things I should avoid doing?

You should avoid diverting the conversation and interrupting, contradicting, criticizing, judging or threatening the other person. The basic principle of communication is that it takes at least two people to establish contact, so you have to be willing to listen and discuss. Many people pretend to listen. They think about something else while the speaker is talking or work to come up with a reply before the person has even finished their sentence. These attitudes are not conducive to building trust.


How do I talk about my loved one’s mental illness?

First, it is important to ask your loved one if they consent to you disclosing information about their condition and inform them with whom you wish to share it. Explain your reasons and reassure them of your intentions.

While remaining respectful of their wishes, it is beneficial to talk about your loved one’s mental illness. However, you must be judicious about what information you share. It is best to stick to the facts and behaviours you have observed and avoid analyzing your loved one’s feelings. Be careful, you most likely will not share the same information with a neighbour as you would a family member.


Things to remember

Communication is an ongoing challenge. Be easy on yourself and try to operate from a “win-win” perspective. That is, establish a mode of communication that works for both you and your loved one. Key points: right place and right time, respect one another’s boundaries, use “I”, acknowledge the other person’s experience, keep a positive attitude, take things one day at a time and share responsibilities.

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Jean Coutu
VIA Rail Canada
L’Appui proches aidants
Réseaux communautaire de Santé et de Services sociaux
Centre d’apprentissage Santé et Rétablissement
Lafrance Communication
Desjardins Caisse du Plateau Montcalm
Raise Solutions
David Communication
Centre Axel
Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de l’Est-de-l’Île-de-Montréal
Fondation Québec Philanthrope

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