Clear Communication

Self-Therapy For People Who ENJOY Learning About Themselves

Clear Communication: #1


I'm going to be telling you about some "tricks" you can use to communicate clearly with anyone.

I call them tricks because most people don't know about them and because they often work so powerfully
that they seem to give you an unfair advantage.

But the first thing to learn about clear communication is that being tricky in the dishonest sense will always backfire on you!

Actually, when conversations get difficult, we do tend to get at least a little bit tricky. Consciously or subconsciously, we try to change the subject. The tricks I will be telling you about will help you to recognize and deal effectively with these attempts to change the subject.

(I'll be using a couple in my examples, but these same principles apply in all communication.)


Always take the time to decide your own purpose. Ask yourself: "What do I want to get out of this conversation? What is my goal?"

If the communication is important to you at all, you do have a purpose. But that purpose needs to be in the front of your mind for you to have any chance of getting what you want.

He: "Let's go for a ride today."
She: "I'd rather stay home."

If they keep the conversation at this level, they might talk in circles for hours. But if each person keeps their own purpose in mind, things can clear up quickly.


Maybe he wants to go for a ride so he can end up at the electronics store. Maybe she wants to stay home because she wants to make love. If they each know their own purpose they might end up making some beautiful music together! (Sorry. Just couldn't resist!)


When communication gets difficult, it's because the topic keeps getting changed.

He: "Let's go for a ride today."
She: "You never want to stay home."

She is trying to change the topic from whether they will go for a ride to whether he ever wants to stay home.

If he falls for this change of subject, he might say: "I do too! We stayed home all last week!"

But if he remembers his own topic he'll say something like: "I'm talking about today. Let's talk about that first."

And if she remembers both her purpose and her topic she might say: "OK. But let's make love first, then we can talk about that." [...But sometimes nonverbal communication is best...]


Many people don't like the word "cooperate." They immediately think it means losing!

What cooperation really means is finding a way for both people to get what they want instead of having one person win while the other loses.

In our example, both people could get what they want if they'd simply decide which person's desire to fulfill first.


There is communication, and there is "meta-communication." Meta-communication means "talking about the talking."

When things aren't going well take a few steps backwards in your mind, notice the way you are communicating with each other, and then comment on it.

When she said: "You never want to stay home."
He could have said: "You are trying to change the subject."
Or he could have said: "I'm talking about today and you want to talk about what 'never' happens."
Or: "When you talk about 'nevers' I think you want to argue."

Each of these statements show "meta-communication."

Of course, meta-communication is actually a way of changing the topic.

But it is often the best new topic to bring up when communication is already going poorly.

Even if this conflict isn't resolved, learning how you communicate can resolve future conflicts before they begin!


Don't talk up to someone, as if they are better than you. Don't talk down to someone, as if you are better than them.
You are equals. Talk Sideways!

Here are some "sideways" statements our couple could have made:
"Which thing should we do first?"
"I really want to take that drive. How much do you want to stay home?"
"How can we both get what we want today?"

[...Now would be the best time to read Clear Communication #2...]

Enjoy Your Changes!

Everything here is designed to help you do just that!

Clear Communication: #2

This is the second in a series of topics on communication. Refer back to topic #1 if you need to.

  • Have a purpose, and remember it.
  • Remember the topic, notice when it starts to change, and go back to it.
  • Be ready to cooperate - so both people get what they want.
  • If the conversation is going poorly, talk about the way the communication is going.
  • Don't talk down to or up to the other person.

We are still using the same couple for our examples. And remember that these principles apply to all communication.



When the other person is talking down to you or implying superiority, you can avoid arguing by responding with pure logic:

He: "Let's go for a ride today."
She: "Why don't you ever want to stay home with me!?"
He: "I want to stay home with you often. Just not today."

If he would have responded to the attack instead, he might have escalated the anger with statements like:
"I'd stay home more if you weren't so grouchy all the time! "Why are you always picking on me?"

Or, another even worse way of responding to the attack would be to "join" her by being self-demeaning: "I know, I always disappoint you. I'm just a bad husband, I guess." [This one is a favorite of alcoholics and other drug abusers. It's usually used the morning after a binge.]

The key to deflecting attacks is to say how true or untrue the other person's statement is - and to do it in a rational way that does not reflect poorly on either person.


He could clarify what he wants with:
" I only want to be gone a couple hours."
"I want to check out the stereos as the mall."
"I'd rather go with you, but I could go alone too."

He could ask her to clarify what she wants with:
"What do you want to do if we stay home?"
"We could stop at a restaurant on the way if you like."
"So you want to stay home by yourself or with me?"


Most disagreements don't create big feelings, but there are always some feelings, big or small, behind each person's wants.

Feelings tell us how little or how much we want what we are talking about. Talking about them leads to quicker and longer lasting resolutions.

After he says: "Let's go for a ride today" she might say:

  • "You seem so excited about going for a ride. Why?"
  • "Well I really want to stay home and I'd be pretty angry if we didn't get some time together today."
  • "How would you feel about staying home and playing around instead?"

In these examples she is either asking about the strength of his feelings or telling him about the strength of hers.

We need to find out about and value each person's feelings to solve problems together.


If the communication seems confused, it's usually because people are defining words differently. When she says "stay home" he might think "be bored and stare at the tube." When he says, "go for a drive" she might think of driving aimlessly.

Statements like these can help a lot:

  • "What do you mean by 'go for a drive'? Where would we go? How far? What would we do?"
  • "What do you mean by 'stay at home'? All day? While we work around the house?"

This is one of the most powerful things I know about, and it is also one of the most difficult things to do.

We all need to confront other people about their behavior sometimes, and we all instinctively know that if we could do it kindly it would go much better.

But being supportive when you need to confront someone means that you need to get good at using your anger and frustration wisely and resisting the temptation to get more immediate relief.

Watch children having temper tantrums. Notice that the natural thing they do is simply let it all out and try to get relief immediately.

As we get older and our needs get more complex, using our anger wisely and in appropriate doses works far better.

For instance:
He could have confronted her without support by saying:
"Why do you have to want the opposite of what I want!?"

Or he could have more strongly gone for what he wanted
while supporting her by saying:
"It'd be good to stay at home with you,
but let's do it after we see about that new stereo I want."


In order to do this well, however, he would have to REALLY care about her and what she wants! Faking it would not only fail today, it would cause huge new problems.

By the way, learning how to really care isn't about communication at all. It's about maturity, and commitment, and self-love, and loving others. And each of these is covered by other topics in this series...
Read on...

Enjoy Your Changes!

Everything here is designed to help you do just that!

next: Feeling Like You Belong

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 13). Clear Communication, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Last Updated: March 29, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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