A Framework for Effective Communication

Two men sitting in chairs talking to each other.

A Framework for Effective Communication

Therapy in recovery is about learning many skills, including how to more effectively communicate. Being able to listen to what others are saying and successfully articulate your opinions and needs to others can help prevent misunderstandings. Misunderstandings often lead to emotionally stressful situations that can negatively impact your recovery. As you add new communication skills to your toolbox, you are carefully building a framework for effective communication that can benefit you throughout the rest of your life.

The True Meaning of Listening

How often has someone asked you if you heard what they just said? Perhaps you were even able to recite word for word what they had said, or at least paraphrase it well, yet they still felt like you did not hear what they were trying to communicate, leaving them feeling isolated and misunderstood. This feeling often arises when communication skills are lacking. By truly listening and not just hearing, these feelings of being misunderstood can be avoided.

There are often emotions behind the words that are communicated through nonverbal cues, including voice inflection, facial expressions, and body language. Some people struggle to find the right words to communicate and rely on nonverbal cues or context from other conversations or experiences to try to convey their message. This explains why text messages often do not come across in the tone we anticipated to portray, as our body language and vocal tone are not present. Listening requires active participation. Active listening is the foundation of your framework for effective communication.

Listening to All Aspects

Sometimes when you are listening to others, you may hear only what you want to hear, rather than the complete conversation. This is sometimes referred to as selective hearing, meaning you only hear a portion of the message. This type of listening denies you the opportunity to receive the full extent of information the other person is attempting to share. You are also denying them the opportunity to be heard.

Only hearing part of the conversation is often how misunderstandings occur, resulting in negative emotions for both parties. The more you encounter negative emotions, the more you will experience difficulties in the recovery process, potentially leading to relapse. Being able to hear and understand the complete conversation will allow you to respond appropriately.

Asking Questions to Clarify

There may be times when you didn’t quite hear or understand what another person said, or perhaps you simply need more information to further the conversation. Rather than simply making assumptions, asking questions to clarify can go a long way in avoiding misunderstandings. You may also wish to clarify important messages by restating what you have heard and asking if you have understood them correctly.

Clarification is necessary at times to understand the intent or emotions behind the conversation. In discussions with a friend, family member, significant other, or another individual, the intent behind the conversation often differs between parties. Asking the other person how they feel about the conversation or how the situation made them feel can help increase your understanding beyond the words that may have been spoken.

Asking for What You Want

A strong aspect of communication is to ask for what you want or need respectfully. One common challenge in communication is effectively communicating what you want. Whether it is due to self-esteem, an abusive relationship, or simply not being able to articulate your needs, you may struggle to ask others for what you want or need in your verbal communication. Poor communication in this area can often come across as needy, aggressive, or other negative ways toward the other individual.

There are also situations where being able to communicate is important for your health or safety, such as communicating with your doctor or treatment team. Learning to advocate for yourself and express what you need can be validating and empowering. Appropriate conversation can also allow you to have your needs fulfilled. Whether it is communication about your recovery process, a relationship, your job, or your place of residence, being able to articulate your needs is key to building your framework of effective communication.

Being Heard

Communicating with others requires that they also listen to you. Because you do not always have control over others’ communication skill levels, communication success should be within what you can control. Therefore, as part of building your framework, you need to learn tools to be a more effective communicator in situations where others may struggle to hear and understand you. Being patient, explaining in further detail, and respectfully communicating can all help these conversations run smoothly.

This may include being patient and restating or rephrasing what you want. Becoming frustrated and reacting emotionally does not help the situation and does not allow room for effective conversation. You may need to problem solve to find a way to resonate with the person you are trying to communicate with. 

In some situations, the other person may not be able to understand, but when you are patient and utilize all of your skills in your toolbox, chances are better than not that you will be able to effectively communicate your needs with others and be heard. Practicing these skills is how you build your framework of effective communication. It is a great way to build healthy relationships through recovery as well.