Communication is the basis of human interaction and is a process by which information is exchanged through a common system of symbols, signs or behaviour. In the context of relationships and mental wellbeing, healthy communication underpins and fosters understanding, respect and connection among individuals. Healthy and effective communication involves active listening, empathy and assertiveness.
The importance of effective communication
Effective communication plays a pivotal role in sustaining healthy relationships and promoting overall wellbeing. Research shows there are strong links between communication and our health and wellbeing. Some of the ways effective communication positively impacts mental health includes the acts of emotional support and promoting connectedness.
Effective communication provides emotional support by allowing individuals to express their feelings and experiences to others, leading to a sense of validation and understanding. It promotes connectedness among individuals, strengthening bonds and reducing feelings of isolation or loneliness.
These factors can improve mental health as engaging in open, empathetic conversations can significantly improve overall wellbeing by reducing stress and enhancing emotional resilience.
Understanding different communication styles is essential for effective communication. These styles can be categorised as assertive, passive or aggressive:
- Assertive communication: This style involves expressing thoughts, feelings and needs respectfully and confidently, without infringing on the rights of others.
- Passive communication: Passive communicators tend to avoid conflict, express themselves indirectly, or give in to others’ demands, often at the cost of their own needs (an example of passive communication is nodding silently in agreement during a meeting, even though you might disagree)
- Aggressive communication: Aggressive communicators express thoughts and feelings in a hostile or confrontational manner, frequently disregarding the feelings of others.
Enhancing communication skills
We can all learn to enhance our communication skills by developing and practicing some core techniques.
Nonverbal cues – such as body language, facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice – provide additional context to verbal messages. Maintaining congruence between verbal and nonverbal communication is vital. By practicing positive nonverbal communication and ensuring congruence between verbal and nonverbal cues we can foster trust, improve comprehension, promote empathy and ultimately have better connections.
Active listening involves fully engaging with the speaker, demonstrating empathy and seeking to understand their perspective through techniques like paraphrasing and summarising. Use clarifying questions to ensure accurate comprehension. For example, you might ask “Is this what you mean?”.
Defer judgement and avoid interrupting. Often when we are listening to others, we will have an emotional response and make judgements or assumptions about the intent and meaning of the message. To avoid judgements and reduce conflict in difficult conversations, try turning down your internal dialogue and stay focused on what is being said. Use emotional regulation techniques like deep breathing to neutralise emotions to communicate without judgement.
Assertive expression enables individuals to communicate their thoughts, feelings, ideas and needs directly and effectively while respecting the beliefs and rights of others. Using “I” statements and active problem-solving are valuable tools. Rehearing what you want to say, and practicing responding appropriately, can help you express your thoughts and feeling respectfully.
Conflict resolution strategies
Conflict is a normal part of relationships, but it can affect mental wellbeing if not addressed effectively. Healthy conflict involves expressing differing viewpoints constructively and seeking resolution, while unhealthy conflict can involve hostility, aggression or avoidance. Effective conflict resolution techniques include active listening, empathy, seeking win-win solutions, negotiation and compromise.
Communication and mental wellbeing
Communication can be a source of support and plays a vital role in mental health. Effective communication involves providing emotional support through active empathy and validation. This helps to reduce stigma and promotes open dialogue around mental health.
Assertive communication is closely tied to self-perception and can improve self-esteem and self-awareness. Employing techniques such as positive self-talk and using “I” statements to express your thoughts or feelings and engaging in regular self-reflection can significantly impact self-esteem and self-awareness. This can boost confidence and promote positive self-image.
Common communication challenges
Recognising common barriers to effective communication, such as cultural differences, language barriers, emotional barriers and defence mechanisms is essential. Solutions involve building cultural competence, developing emotional intelligence and seeking professional support when needed.
Effective communication is not just a valuable skill; it is vital for healthy relationships and overall wellbeing. By applying strategies and techniques to enhance communication skills, we can improve our relationships, boost mental wellbeing and increase satisfaction in both work and life.
Remember, effective communication requires practice and ongoing effort. The rewards can benefit many aspects of your life.
The information provided in this document is general in nature and is intended to be used for information purposes only. While we have tried to ensure the accuracy of the information published, no guarantee can be given that the information is free from error or omission or that it is accurate, current or complete.
The information published is not, and should not be relied on as, health or treatment advice. The diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness requires the attention of a physician or other properly qualified mental health professional. If you are seeking diagnosis or treatment of any other mental illness, you should consult a physician or mental health professional. You should not delay in seeking, or disregard, professional health advice because of something you have read in this document.