Most of us think we know how to communicate. After all, we spend a large amount of time talking to other people, sharing stories, asking questions. Yet wherever I go, the topic most commonly raised is communication.
How do I talk to the person I care about? What do I do when they don’t want to talk to me? How can I start the conversation? What advice can I give?
Communication is possibly the hardest skill to master for many of us. Fortunately, it’s a skill we can always develop. When I was suffering from depression as a teenager, I needed to learn how to talk, how to share and how to genuinely communicate. The skills have kept me alive. So, how did I learn to share?
1. Conversations: Sometimes the pressure of having to sit down and have a serious talk can prevent any communication from happening. Alternatively, find activities that can be done as a medium to facilitate conversation. Whilst you’re driving and they’re in the backseat, going for a walk, playing with Lego, anything that can be done passively which reduces pressure of a “talk”.
2. Technology: Face to face conversation can sometimes be difficult, let alone when it involves emotionally charged issues with the people you care about. Technology, for better or worse, removes the emotion our body language and tone gives off. Using text, emails, or any other private messaging service gives you time to write down exactly what you want to say, and it allows the person to read it and process it in their own time. If they’re up late at night, it gives them the ability to express themselves without feeling guilty for waking you up. It can also be a used as a timeline to measure frequency or subject related difficulties.
3. Ask for help: There can be a variety of reasons why the person you care for doesn’t want to open up to you. They might not know how to start a conversation, or even have the words to express themselves. Even if they do, they might feel guilty, and a lot of the time they simply don’t want to worry you. That’s all okay! It doesn’t have to be you they open up to. Reach out to your community, it might be an aunt or uncle, a cousin, family friend, teacher, mentor, anyone that’s responsible and they feel comfortable, and safe with. Having someone to speak with is better than having no one, even if that person isn’t you.
4. Create a safe space: This doesn’t have to be a literal location, more so aim to create an environment that if, and when they feel like opening up, and talking, they feel comfortable and safe to do so. This can be encouraged by letting them know that when they are ready, you are there to listen without judgement, and you’re coming from a loving place.
5. Actively listen: Being able to verbally express yourself is one thing, being able to receive what is being expressed is an entirely separate skill. Especially when it can be new, and challenging information. Our default reaction can be to get defensive, and want to fix things. Remember this isn’t about you, it’s about them, and for the most part people just want to be heard, they want to get this pain off their chest. They do not necessarily want advice, or for you to fix things, or explain them away, they do not want to be nor should be judged for feeling. If you do want to give advice, ask if that’s what they want, do not assume their needs. It also helps to be informed, going to websites such as Beyond Blue, Headspace, or the Black Dog Institute, and using their resources on how to facilitate conversations, and what to expect, is a good place to start.
There isn’t a fool-proof plan that is guaranteed to work, a lot of this is trial and error, and what works for one person can be completely different to what works for another. Find the best way to keep communication lines open for you and the people you care for. This can take time, but it’s worth it.
For me, good communication kept me safe, it keeps me healthy.