Interpersonal Relationships and Communication
- Friendship Skills
- Analyzing Relationships
- Communication Styles
- Assertive Communication
- Listening Skills / Listening Well
- Conflict Resolution - Middle School
- Reaction Styles
- Levels of Communication
- Conflict Resolution - High School
Group memberships and friendships are especially important during adolescence. As students become less dependent on family groups, they rely on peers to share their feelings and to try out new roles. The development of friendship requires certain skills, including:
- the ability to keep secrets
Trust means being able to rely upon someone, believing that the person will act in your best interest; being dependable.
Honesty means telling the truth, saying what you mean and meaning what you say, being who you really are.
Empathy means sharing another's emotions, thoughts or feelings; "walking in another's shoes."
Keeping secrets means maintaining a confidence, refusing to share another person's thoughts or feelings, not passing along private information
Loyalty means having another person's best interest at heart, being available when another person needs you, sticking by a person in bad times as well as good times.
Understanding means knowing someone well, having sympathy for someone, seeing someone else's point of view.
Communication means using I-statements to convey thoughts and feelings, saying what you want while being sensitive to others, using appropriate body language, listening without interrupting and listening for important ideas and feelings.
Everyone has many different relationships. Some relationships are with family members, some are with friends and some are love relationships. Each relationship is different, and all relationships change over time as the people within them grow and develop. Most relationships contain a combination of healthy and unhealthy characteristics.
Characteristics of Healthy Relationships
Healthy relationships have certain characteristics. Each partner feels whole without the other even though the two people enjoy being together. Each partner communicates effectively and honestly. In a healthy relationship, both partners accept the other as he or she is. There are no unrealistic expectations or attempts to control the other person. In healthy relationships, both partners recognize and appreciate change. Both partners have established healthy, comfortable limits based on their own standards. There is a balance between togetherness and the separate lives of each partner.
Characteristics of Unhealthy Relationships
Some relationships may contain unhealthy characteristics. One person may expect the partner to fulfill all needs (dependency). One or both partners may be jealous and demand complete devotion. Control is another unhealthy characteristic. One or both partners may need to dominate the other person and the relationship. Selfishness may be a part of an unhealthy relationship. Selfishness is taking care of one's own comfort, pleasure or interest excessively or without regard for others.
The last characteristic that may exist in unhealthy relationships is abuse. The abuse may involve emotional and/or physical mistreatment.
When unhealthy characteristics exist within a relationship, partners may choose to work toward making the relationship healthier. However, both partners must be willing to make efforts to overcome the negative characteristics of the relationship. Counseling services within schools and communities help families and couples strengthen their relationships.
Signs of Relationship Problems
When relationships are in trouble, some common signs indicate problems, including:
- poor communication
- unresolved conflicts
- insufficient time spent together
- emotional or physical abuse
Poor communication: if partners have poor communication, they may fail to communicate with one another or fail to use effective talking and listening skills.
Unresolved conflicts: poor communication may lead to unresolved conflicts.
Insufficient time spent together: the amount or quality of time spent together may be insufficient to support feelings of closeness and connection between the partners.
Emotional or physical abuse: emotional or physical abuse is always a sign of problems within a relationship.
Signs of Abuse
A person within an abusive relationship would answer yes to several of the following questions.
- Are you afraid of making your partner angry?
- Are you afraid to disagree with your partner?
- Do you need permission to do things or go places without your partner?
- Are you afraid your partner will hurt you? (emotionally or physically)
- Are you afraid to end your relationship with your partner?
People in an abusive relationship often need professional help and support to safely leave the relationship. Many communities offer counseling services and shelters for victims of abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.
Link to more information on abuse (link to Injury Prevention Web-links in Teacher Support Section, topic Abuse)
When problems within a relationship are not overcome, one or both partners may decide to end the relationship. The first step toward ending a relationship is making the decision. The decision should be based upon a decision-making process.
Once the decision has been made, the time and location to inform the other person of the decision should be carefully chosen. The place and time should be mutually safe and comfortable for both parties. The middle of the hall between classes is an example of a poor time and location. A city park or a private place on the school grounds might be more appropriate.
Begin by telling the person why you are ending the relationship. Be sure to use I- messages to focus on what you think and how you feel. Don't blame or accuse the other person. For example: "When I remember all the problems we have, I want to end our relationship, because I don't want to fight any more" is better than, "You don't get along with anyone and you never will." Be clear and firm about your decision and communicate how you feel.
Both parties should be prepared for uncomfortable feelings. Any change causes stress and old patterns take time to change. You can get help with these feelings by getting support from your family and friends. Let them know how you are feeling and that you need their understanding.
Without adequate communication skills, adolescents may be unable to release their feelings. This lack of communication can increase stress and lower self-esteem.
There are three styles of communication:
Passive communication involves the inability or unwillingness to express thoughts and feelings. Passive people will do something they don't want to do or make up an excuse rather than say how they feel.
Assertive behavior involves standing up for oneself. Assertive people will say what they think and stand up for their beliefs without hurting others.
The aggressive style of communication involves overreaction, blaming and criticizing. Aggressive people try to get their way through bullying, intimidating or even physical violence. They do not or will not consider the rights of others.
Types of Messages
There are two types of messages that accompany each style of communication: nonverbal and verbal. Signs, symbols, posture, body movements, dress, facial expressions and gestures are examples of nonverbal messages. The nonverbal messages reinforce what the speaker is saying. For example, passive communicators often have slumped posture and a lack of eye contact. Assertive people exhibit erect posture and direct eye contact. Forward-leaning posture, pointing and a glaring look are nonverbal signals of aggressive communication.
The verbal messages for each communication style are very different. People who are passive will often ask questions to determine what others want, or they may say, "I don't care." Assertive communicators use I-messages to say what they want or need. They use refusal skills to say no while maintaining important relationships. People who are aggressive often use you-statements to blame or criticize.
Components of Assertive Communication
The components of verbal messages for assertive communication include I-messages and refusals. I-messages state what the sender thinks, feels, needs, wants or believes. They begin with the word I.
Examples of I-messages:
- "I want to see Star Wars."
- "I feel angry about the game."
There are a variety of refusal strategies, including:
- Say the word "no" firmly.
- Repeat no (if needed).
- Let the other person know you want to stay friends.
Examples of refusals:
- No, I can't sleep over on Friday, but I would like to another time.
- No, thanks. I'm allergic to peanuts. The cookies look really delicious, and I'm sorry I can't have one.
Communication involves the accurate transfer of thoughts and feelings. Positive communication skills help build healthy relationships and contribute to good mental health.
The assertive talking skills include:
- Short, clear messages-you can always say more later.
- Matching nonverbal messages-body language sends the same message as the verbal message.
- Calm and respectful behavior-the communicator honors the thoughts and feelings of the listener.
- Honesty-assertive communicators say what they mean and mean what they say.
- I-messages-thoughts and feelings are conveyed by using I-messages.
I-messages are an effective way to express thoughts and feelings while remaining sensitive to others. I-messages focus on the speaker without blaming or intimidating the listener. They allow the speaker and listener to focus on the message and keep emotions under control. This talking skill is crucial when important thoughts or strong feelings need to be discussed.
Listening Skills / Listening Well
Being able to listen is just as important as being able to talk. Effective communication occurs when the listener receives a message accurately and thoughtfully. The listener is aware of the thoughts and feelings that are being expressed and reflects them back to the talker for confirmation or clarification. Good listening is necessary for making and keeping healthy relationships.
Good listeners exhibit the following skills:
- eye contact
- body language
Eye contact-The listener shows he or she is paying attention by looking directly at the talker.
Body language-The listener's body indicates attention through nodding, facial expressions, shrugging, etc.
Encouragers-Words and phrases encourage the talker to continue. Examples: no kidding, oh no, cool, I see what you mean.
Reflection-Restate the talker's thought or feeling to check accuracy. Examples: You must be really upset, I can see you feel jealous, So you think she was unfair.
Questions-Ask questions to clarify what the speaker is saying. Examples: Do you mean she didn't see you there? Are you sure she was angry?.
Good listeners do not interrupt or change the subject until the talker indicates she or he is finished expressing the thought or feeling.
Conflict Resolution - Middle School
Whenever people spend time with one another, conflict naturally arises. Conflicts may occur between two or more people-family members, friends or acquaintances. Common reasons for conflicts with peers include:
- violating a trust
- sharing secrets
- disloyal behavior
- being unavailable
- lack of sympathy
- poor communication
Conflicts may be resolved in positive or negative ways. Unfortunately, in our culture, adolescents rarely have an opportunity to learn how to resolve conflicts positively. They are bombarded with media messages of violence and revenge. Imitating these messages damages relationships and contributes to poor mental health.
As children mature into adolescents, they must learn how to settle their own conflicts. Learning how to resolve conflicts helps families and friendships run more smoothly. When conflicts occur, they have a better chance of being solved if they are addressed rather than ignored. Resolving conflicts strengthens the relationships that are important in our lives.
Conflict Resolution Process
The following five-step process for conflict resolution uses skills that middle school students can practice now as well as in the future.
- Agree that you disagree: Clarify the issue that is causing the disagreement. Answer the question What is this disagreement about?
- Take turns talking and listening: Use talking and listening skills to have a conversation about the problem. Each person should have an opportunity to say what he or she thinks or feels; each person should have an opportunity to listen to the other person's point of view.
- Restate what you heard: Reflect what the other person says to clarify her or his thoughts and feelings. Ask questions if you don't understand.
- Come up with a solution: Generate ideas that may solve the problem. Each person should agree on the solution you choose.
- Get outside help if you need it: If you are unable or unwilling to reach a solution, contact an unbiased person who can help you.
Unresolved conflicts may signal that a relationship should end. Steps in ending a relationship include:
- Make the decision.
- Choose the time and place.
- Explain the reason.
- Prepare for uncomfortable feelings.
- Get support from others.
The first step is to make the choice to end the relationship based upon the decision-making process. (Review that process with students if time permits.)
Once the decision has been made, choose the time and location. It is important to choose a place and time that is mutually safe and comfortable for both parties. The middle of the hall between classes and passing a note during class are poor examples of a time and location. A city park or a private place on the school grounds may be more appropriate.
When people react to feelings, they may be passive, assertive or aggressive. Passive reactions involve the inability or unwillingness to express thoughts and feelings. People who choose a passive style may do something they don't want to do or make up an excuse rather than express what they feel or think. Assertive reactions allow people to stand up for themselves. Assertive people will say what they think and openly express their feelings. Aggressive reactions involve overreaction, blaming and criticizing. People who are aggressive express their feelings through bullying, intimidating or even physical violence. They do not or will not consider the rights of others.
Both nonverbal and verbal messages accompany each reaction style. The nonverbal messages reinforce what the speaker is saying and feeling. Nonverbal messages include:
- body movements
- facial expressions
For example, a passive reaction may be accompanied by slumped posture, a lack of eye contact, hand wringing, hesitant speech, whining or nervous laughter. Assertive reactions, by contrast, entail sitting or standing tall, looking directly at the person you're talking to, speaking in clear statements with a steady voice, and making the gestures or physical contact that are appropriate. Aggressive nonverbal messages include finger pointing, leaning toward the other person, glaring, and a loud, angry tone of voice.
The verbal messages for each reaction style are very different. People who are passive will often ask questions to determine what others feel, or they may say, "I don't care." Assertive communicators use I-messages to say what they think or feel. They refuse to do things they don't want to do while maintaining important relationships. People who are aggressive often use "you statements" to blame or criticize.
Verbal Messages for Assertive Reactions
The essential components of verbal messages for assertive reactions include I-messages and refusal strategies.
I __________________________________ (think, feel, need, want, believe)
"I want to understand why this question was marked incorrect."
"I feel upset about the way we talked to each other."
Say the word no.
Repeat "no" (if necessary).
Give your reasons.
Show you care.
No thanks, I don't want a drink because I am driving.
No, I've got to study this weekend, but I can go next week.
Levels of Communication
People communicate on different levels. The level of communication is determined by the degree of disclosure and is dependent upon the intimacy in the relationship. Personal conversations may contain many levels of communication in any single encounter.
There are five levels of communication:
- polite conversation
- information giving
- expressing ideas
- sharing feelings
Polite conversation is the lowest level of communication. We often use this level when meeting someone new or talking with someone we don't know very well. Phrases such as, "How are you?" and "What's the weather like?" are characteristic of polite conversation.
Information giving involves reporting events, facts and information without providing opinions or feelings. Gossip is included in this level.
Expressing ideas is the level at which people begin sharing personal information. An individual takes the risk of disclosing thoughts and may carefully monitor the response of the listener. If the listener seems critical or negative, the speaker may revert to less personal levels of communication.
Sharing feelings involves even more intimacy, as the communicator expresses how situations make him or her feel. Sharing feelings involves more risk than sharing ideas; however, unexpressed feelings may lead to increased stress and lack of intimacy.
Self-disclosing is the highest level of communication. It is reserved for close friends, family members and partners. It involves sharing deep feelings, joys, fears and dreams. Because of the deep emotions involved, it is difficult to stay at this level of communication for more than a brief period of time. In self-disclosing, we are the most vulnerable and achieve the most intimate level of communication.
I-messages provide a good way to express the thoughts and feelings involved in the highest levels of communication. I-messages allow people to express thoughts and feelings in open and honest ways. They are non-threatening, because I-messages focus on the thoughts and feelings of the speaker rather than the behaviors of the listener.
Using I-messages is a skill, and, therefore, must be practiced. At first, I-messages may seem forced and unnatural. With time, they replace the "you messages" people so often use. I-messages enable speakers to communicate honestly and openly within relationships.
People are more likely to get what they need when they communicate effectively. Relationships are healthier when we say what we mean and mean what we say.
Conflict Resolution - High School
Whenever people spend time with one another, it is natural for conflict to arise. Conflicts may occur among two or more people, among family members, friends and acquaintances. Common reasons for conflicts include:
- violating a trust
- disloyal behavior
- being unavailable
- lack of sympathy
- a difference in standards
- unfair treatment
- poor communication
Conflict Resolution Methods
Three methods can be employed to resolve conflicts:
Unfortunately, in our culture, the win-lose method is frequently modeled in the media and seems to appeal to our competitive society. In win-lose, one side simply imposes its will on the other. In relationships, this method is inappropriate, because even the winner "loses" if the other person in the relationship feels coerced or disrespected.
In a compromise resolution, each side gives up some of its demands or makes concessions in order to reach a solution that is more pleasing to both parties. Compromise is a positive method for resolving conflict.
The collegial method is the most positive but least used resolution. In this method, both sides communicate and work together to develop a new and better solution.
For example: Two friends are disagreeing about where to eat lunch. One friend wants to go to Burger Bear, the other wants to lunch at Taco Town. If the friends go to Taco Town, they are using the win-lose method of conflict resolution. If the friends agree to go to Taco Town today and Burger Bear tomorrow, a compromise has been made. However, if after discussion, the friends decide to lunch at Pizza Palace, a collegial resolution has been reached.
Conflict Resolution Process
A five-step process can be used to reach a compromise or collegial resolution.
- Agree that you disagree. Clarify the issue that is causing the disagreement; answer the question, "What is this disagreement really about?"
- Take turns talking and listening. Use talking and listening skills to have a conversation about the problem; all persons should have an opportunity to say what they think or feel; they should also have an opportunity to listen to the other person's point of view.
- Restate what you heard. Reflect what the other people say to clarify their thoughts and feelings; ask questions if you don't understand.
- Come up with a solution. Generate ideas that may solve the problem; consider compromises and new ideas that each person can agree upon.
- Get outside help if you need it. If you are unable or unwilling to reach a solution, contact an unbiased person or mediator who can help.
An apology can be important when a disagreement is unresolved or when one person does something that damages a relationship. A genuine apology that has been offered and accepted is one of the most profound interactions of socialized people. It has the power to restore damaged relationships between two people or groups of people. If done well, an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness.
Apology is defined as an acknowledgement of some fault with an expression of regret and a plea for pardon. A good apology has the following elements:
- Acknowledge the fault.
- Accept responsibility for the fault.
- Explain the impact of the fault.
- Provide explanation.
- Communicate regret.
The biggest stumbling block to an apology is the belief that apologizing is a sign of weakness and an admission of guilt. In fact, an apology is a show of strength, courage and commitment to a relationship.