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How to Change One's Communication Style in a Relationship

by Judy Kilpatrick

If you find yourself feeling misunderstood, ignored or having a difficult time getting your point across, it's time to change your communication style. Although your basic way of communicating depends upon personal characteristics, interpersonal communications in a relationship are more effective when you flex to reflect the other person's communication style. Flexing begins with observing and then temporarily adjusting your style.

Arm Yourself with Knowledge

Communication styles carry various labels, depending upon the context of the communication. In her article "Understanding Communication Styles," Kerrie Halmi -- a business consultant -- describes the four types of communication styles as direct, spirited, systematic and considerate. Professor Christina Wilson, in "Understanding Your Communication Style," labels the four types of communicators as directive, emotive, reflective and supportive. These labels, respectively, reflect the same communication characteristics. Understanding each style, and finding yours, can help you flex your style to improve communications within relationships. Wilson says, "By managing your half of the relationship well, you can influence the other half."

Establish Rapport through Mirroring

Tone of voice, facial expression and body position all provide clues to meaning during communication. When you are in a relationship with a person who has a different communication style from your own, it is important to listen closely and observe their body language. Mirror the other person's non-verbal communications by matching your tone of voice and pace of speech with theirs, and use similar body gestures. Sameness puts others at ease.

Overcome the Battle of the Sexes -- Genderflex

Men and women are different. The battle between the sexes is as old as humankind, and differing communication styles are notorious for creating conflicts in relationships. Tailor your talk to your audience. In conversation with the opposite sex, use words and examples common to the communications and interests of the other person. Coining the term "genderflex," Judith C. Tingley suggests temporarily using communication behaviors of the other gender to increase potential for influence. Match your facial and body expressions to the other person, and speak their language. Sports enthusiasts understand phrases such as "the ball is in your court," "full-court press" or "take off the gloves."

Seek Understanding

The purpose of communication is to exchange information and to interact socially. But communication is often blocked by the tendency of the receiver to filter the speaker's words through their own life experiences, or to half listen while planning a response. If this is your style of communication, you are not alone. However, you can change your style to improve relationships by seeking to understand. Listen to what is being said. Ask questions for clarity. You let the speaker know their words are important to you with questions that reflect what you heard and ask if you are correct. In his book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen R. Covey recommends, "Seek first to understand, and then to be understood."

About the Author

For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.

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