Much of my work in the world of communication centers around the power and importance of interpersonal relationships. I studied this while obtaining my PhD in sociology (and raising two young children, which was an entirely new relationship dynamic for me), and I grew a business out of it later. But much of my business originally centered around working with youth: I taught adults how to better connect with the kids in their lives and kids how to better connect with each other.

Even though much of my recent work has centered on youth, studying relationships has infiltrated every part of my life. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned through all of this, it’s that effective communication is the key to any relationship – whether it’s between parents and their kids, spouses, co-workers, family members, you name it.

Most of the skills I teach can be used in situations at work, with your significant other, with friends. Because, at the end of the day, we’re all just people. And no matter our age or our situation, we all want to be heard, we all want to be understood.

We All Want to Be Heard and Understood

Do you ever notice how we tend to communicate in drastically different ways based on the person with whom we’re speaking? Of course, we’d never speak to our boss in the same tone that we’d speak to our child – but perhaps we spend too much time overthinking these differences rather than focusing on the similarities.

When your child is acting out, he or she is begging for your attention. It’s a sign that your child feels misunderstood. That doesn’t mean your child should be allowed to act out without consequence, but it does mean you should get to the bottom of why it’s happening.

That’s where engaging your empathy circuitry and working on active listening helps.

When your boss is breathing down your neck or barking orders at you, he or she feels like you’re not doing what was asked. That doesn’t mean your boss should be disrespectful towards you, but it does mean that you should dig deeper to find out what’s causing the disconnect.

Again, that’s where you can engage your empathy circuitry and actively listen to figure things out.

In both of these situations, there’s some work to do to move past the outward behavior and seek to understand what’s causing it. Remember that the person on the other end just wants to be understood, and it’s on you to ask questions until you can get on the same page and then move forward.

All Change Requires Lifelong Effort – But It’s Never Too Late

The other tricky aspect of (mis)communication is that it can seem like a broken connection or crossed wires permanently damage relationships. This never needs to be the case.

Whether you’ve been having the same fight over and over with your spouse or a repeated situation with a coworker, it’s never too late to course correct.

In all of these situations, the first step is to look inward. How have your actions and words helped lead to this point? What have you done in the past that could be partially responsible for this repeated situation? Once you take a look backward to view the situation through this lens, you’ll be able to create steps that will help you move forward.

After all, in all of these situations, you must first be the change you wish to see. It’s not easy to humble ourselves and correct the patterns we’ve fallen into that lead to misfires in communication, but the results are worth it.

Practice Skillful Communication in One Area, Watch How it Works in All the Rest

As with any challenge, you are most likely to succeed if you focus on one area at a time. And like all transformations, one good change leads to another.

Practice better communication with your teen, watch those same principles apply at work.

Practice active listening with your spouse, see how it helps you to actively listen with your friends.

Practice strengthening your empathy muscles with your young child, use those muscles when you’re struggling to understand someone else’s point of view.

The more you work on techniques to improve your communication in one area of your life, the more you’ll see those habits positively impact on other areas of your life. As this happens, you’ll see yourself becoming a better communicator than you may have even thought possible – and creating stronger connections as a result.

Lifelong change? Maybe it’s not as hard as it seems!

Image Credit: Mario Purisic