Effective communication = better mental health

A moment of anger can destroy a lifetime of work, whereas a moment of love can break barriers that took a lifetime to build.” – Leon Brown, former Major League Baseball outfielder

All relationships can be stressful at times. Though it may seem counterintuitive, guys often find their anger is triggered while interacting with the people they are most comfortable around (family, friends, and romantic partners), as we tend to let our guard down and shut our filter off. 

Misunderstandings and arguments often start with miscommunication, so learning how to communicate more clearly and effectively can have a big impact on preventing anger-provoking situations. 

Below are some tips for communicating effectively, which can help to reduce tension and conflict in our relationships. Some of them may seem simple, but following these basic principles can have huge results.

Tips To Reduce Conflict

Check yourself when you’re feeling defensive

  • When we notice ourselves feeling defensive, we can try to slow down and phrase our words in a clearer and more objective way. 
  • Noticing our emotions like this is a skill further developed in our Mindfulness for Men Course (which is a good one to follow up with after completing the Managing Anger course).

Say what you think and feel using ‘I’ statements

  • For example, instead of saying “You’re making me angry”, say “I’m feeling angry”. This help to avoid sounding like you are blaming the other person, which may make them feel attacked. 

Avoid talking in absolutes

  • Avoid making sweeping statements like “You always do [blank]” or “I’m the only one who does [blank],” as such phrasing escalates tension and invites dismissal, allowing room for others to point out exceptions and undermine our point.

Be assertive (not passive or aggressive)

  • For example, you might say, “Hey guys, I’d like to suggest going camping for the weekend. I think it would be a fun adventure, and we all like the outdoors.”
  • This approach is clear and confident, as opposed to passive communication, like 
    • “Um, well, I don’t know, we could go camping if you guys want. But if you have any other ideas, that’s fine too,” or not raising the idea at all and getting upset that people didn’t ask for your input. 
  • It’s also an effective contrast to aggressive communication, like:
    • “We’re going camping this weekend I don’t care if you feel like it or not, that’s where we’re going. My car, my destination.”

Avoid the urge to repeat yourself to prove you’re right

  • This prevents unnecessary conflicts, misunderstandings, and escalation of disagreements in conversations and relationships.

Be ready to forgive and let the little things go

  • If someone says or does something that bothers you, ask yourself if it even matters in the long run. If it doesn’t (which is often the case), take some deep breaths, let it go, and focus on what’s important so that you aren’t holding onto resentment (which could then trigger anger later in the day or week) 

Solve the current problem at hand

  • When you find yourself in a challenging conversation, try not to bring up grievances from the past or list another person’s mistakes. We need to keep our focus on solving the immediate problem at hand. 
  • For example, if arguing about who is going to pick up groceries, getting sidetracked by tallying up who did what for the last few weeks doesn’t really help solve the present issue, i.e. who is able to go get groceries now.  

Respect differences, and focus on values you have in common

  • Every person is entitled to their own thoughts, opinions, and perspectives.
  • Be aware of, and respect, differences in values and opinions so that you can avoid speaking and acting disrespectfully. 
  • Focus on finding out what you both agree with, and look to develop a solution or compromise that is based on shared values, needs, or goals.

Practice active listening

Active listening is critical for being fully engaged in a conversation. Here are a few key points to get you started: 

  • Listen
    • Slow down and listen to what the other person is saying without interrupting or jumping to conclusions. 
  • Be empathetic 
    • Ask them to tell you more about what they are trying to say – then try to empathize with them and understand where they are coming from. 
    • For example, if someone says something that upsets you, try to understand their feelings behind what they said and why they said it.
  • Summarize and clarify
    • After the other person is done speaking, check that you understand what they meant by rephrasing what they’ve said in your own words – this gives them the opportunity to clarify in case you’ve misunderstood something. 
    • For example, try “It sounds like you’re saying… ” or “I’m hearing…, is that right?”

For more tips on active listening, see our article on The Art of Active Listening

Have a plan heading into difficult conversations

  • When we know a topic of conversation tends to evoke strong emotions or opinions, we can prepare before getting into it. For example, choosing the right time and place to have the conversation, so that the other person doesn’t feel blind-sided. 
    • We could write some notes ahead of time to make sure we cover all our points and hold ourselves accountable to bring up all the topics we want to discuss.
    • We may also want to discuss having a more formal ‘time-out’ strategy so that anyone can take a break if things get heated and regroup later.

Be willing to compromise

  • Compromise is essential in maintaining peaceful and respectful relationships, as it allows us to find common ground, respect differing perspectives, and prevent unnecessary conflicts that can harm everyone’s emotional well-being.
  • Practicing active listening (listed above) can help to sort out mutually beneficial work-arounds and solutions that meet the most important needs of everyone. 

Know when to let things go

  • Sometimes when we can’t come to an agreement or compromise, the best approach is to take a step back. 
  • Give it a rest and “agree to disagree” for the time being – try to both agree to come back later when you’ve had time to reflect and prioritize what you want vs what you need. 

Prioritize your relationship

  • Some disagreements stem from one side or the other trying to “win” in the discussion or argument. 
  • Remind yourself of the reasons you value the relationship and make sure the other person knows that even when you disagree, you respect their views and feelings.