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You Just Don’t Understand! Learning Effective Communication

By Missy Dixon, MS

We live in a world fraught with communication options, but sometimes we have the most trouble with old-fashioned face-to-face communication. Learning to communicate without accusing is a skill worth having in your toolbox. Excessive emotion can sabotage your efforts to get your point across and be heard. Putting emotion in its conversational place is helpful in any situation where conflict or misunderstanding has arisen. Learning a non-defensive way for letting the other person know your reactions to his or her behavior is important. It is a way of claiming how you are or have reacted to an experience, rather than being an accusation.

Begin with the information: what you perceived the other person saying or doing. Give a simple description of what happened in factual terms. For example, “When you said/did, didn’t say/do…”. Leave your interpretation out of your description. The other person needs to accept your description of the information before you move on. Judgments and feelings are produced when you interpret information.

Be direct when talking about your judgments and feelings; claim them as your own interpretations. “I thought…, I believed…, I concluded…” are ways of talking about your interpretation of what happened or your judgments. Discuss the emotions that you felt during the experience in a straightforward way (e.g., “I felt angry, sad, afraid, hurt, lonely, happy, compassion, etc.”.).

Next, let the other person know what you want for you, for them, for the relationship, or for your family or team. Identify what you are willing to do to resolve the situation, strengthen the relationship, and get better outcomes; and let the other person know by making a request, a promise, an offer, a declaration, or an inquiry; or by apologizing.

Putting the steps of effective communication


After working extra hard to track down the specific birthday present for your brother in response to your urgent request, you did not acknowledge my efforts or thank me.


When I told you that I would find the gift, it seemed that buying it and shipping it immediately had a pretty high priority for you. I was happy to do it because I know you are very busy with work, which is stressful for you.


However, I feel sad that you take my extra efforts for granted. Because of this, I feel resentful.


I do not want to feel that way. I want to feel appreciated in the same way that I appreciate your efforts. I want our relationship to remain strong.


I will let you know when something is happening that gets in the way of our relationship. I request that you tell me when you feel that something is affecting our relationship also.

Teyber, E. (1999). Interpersonal process in therapy: A relational approach, 4th ed., Brooks/Cole: California.


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