Psychology Blog: Cognitive Communication Hacks to Increase Relationship Closeness

Immersed and over-stimulated in our hustle-bustle world, it’s no wonder straightforward, meaningful, and productive communication is nearly impossible to pull off!

With so much to navigate, pausing long enough to actually consider another person’s reactions to the way we are communicating can be daunting. As this also takes a lot of focused humility and self-reflection, it’s easy to see why most of us assign effective communication to the bottom of our To-Do lists.

But, once we take the time to incorporate heightened consciousness into our lives – to see things through the lens of another – our communication deepens, and we are given the opportunity to experience relationships from healthier and happier vantage points.

Perception Sets the Stage

To engage in effective and fulfilling communication, it is imperative to understand that what one perceives becomes their reality. Within this reality, a psychological triad Thought =>Feeling =>Behavior automatically triggers: What’s thought, evokes a feeling, and then influences a behavior.

This functional equation serves as the basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and is present in all communicative interactions and understanding this can prove useful in attaining an intended result.

Let’s ponder an example: Brittney says to Suzie, “I didn’t like the way that you spoke to me, it made me feel as though I were a child.” Which of Suzie’s following responses would promote a continued positive interaction?

  • “That’s ridiculous; I didn’t make you feel like a child.”
  • “I am sorry that my words and tone made you feel as though I was treating you like a child, that was not my intention.”

Clearly, the second statement would encourage harmony and productivity: Brittney would feel heard and understood. Brittney and Suzie don’t necessarily need to agree with each other to be respectful of each other’s point of view: An critical takeaway here would involve realizing that taking the high-road by validating the other person’s feelings would undoubtedly strengthen the friendship, regardless of topic.

Lost in Communication and Translation

British Physicist and Mathematician Sir Isaac Newton’s (1643-1727) Third Law of Motion states: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This theory is also relevant for communication practice, as it pertains to Negative Cycles of Interaction.

Let’s examine this idea using someone expressing an unmet need to their fiancee.  As we now know, this verbal request (behavior) will automatically elicit a Thought =>Feeling =>Behavior from the partner on the receiving end.

  • Bob (to Anne): Honey, can you take the garbage out – it’s overflowing.

Anne becomes defensive interpreting Bob’s statement as a criticism

  • Anne (to self): Bob thinks I’m under-contributing in this relationship!

Based on Anne’s above thought and feeling, she becomes distant and insular, which frustrates Bob, who’s unmet request is unanswered, triggering Bob’s thought:

  • Anne doesn’t care enough about me to even listen when I talk to her.

It is common to get caught up in these negative patterns of interaction. When we do, we react on assumption and express ourselves in trite often hurt-tinged responses. This prevents us from getting to the root of an issue which, most likely, would expose the faulty perceptions that led to the upset.

Using Newton’s First Law of Motion: “An object in motion tends to stay in motion” this downward spiral of reaction/response will continue until we consciously choose to take the responsibility to end it. Sometimes couples fight for years in functioning in these unhealthy patterns until they divorce or decide to get help.

Connection and Self-Reflection Go Hand-In-Hand.

Make it a point to become conscious of your communication habits: Many of my clients find it helpful to think about their Thoughts =>Feelings =>Behaviors on a consistent basis to establish the healthy habit of awareness. The discipline of taking “5 steps back” and considering the effect you have on others is a necessary component to achieving healthy communication.

Ask yourself these questions: How may I have made that person feel by doing or saying that? What was triggered in me just then? Did I trigger something in them? How could I have expressed myself in a more honest and validating way? In doing so, you will be building personal and relational muscle to keep you healthy and happy for years to come.