4 Steps to Respectful Communication
Updated: Apr 13
A great tool for prioritizing better communication today!
Understanding conflict, emotional responses, and how to soothe to promote more effective and respectful communication is a common goal in relationship therapy. When explaining concepts around managing conflict based on The Gottman Method for couples therapy, I came up with the acronym—W.A.I.T & (Co)regulate. I thought it would be a great tool to help my clients remember the concept when needed. This is useful for those in all types of relationships because it can be applied when you feel triggered or stressed in any situation.
So, when you find yourself becoming flooded, flustered, beginning to yell, wanting to storm out of the room, shutting down, or using sarcasm, remember this tool for helping you process and moving forward. Before we discuss the tool in detail, let’s discuss why healthy communication is important.
The Importance of Healthy Communication in Relationships
Conflict is a normal part of a relationship. It gets toxic when people struggle to communicate respectfully. Toxic communication patterns can leave all parties feeling drained and frustrated. Worst still, it can make you vulnerable to health challenges.
A study conducted on over 650 adults over a two-year period found that prolonged negative conflict or “negative social exchanges” can make individuals more susceptible to health conditions.
When communication is done respectfully and with consideration of another’s feelings, it can enhance a relationship. How does respecting the feelings of others influence communication? It creates space for healthy dialogue. When both parties actively listen, you create a safe space for one another. You may also find it strengthens your bond as you can express yourselves honestly, be vulnerable, and experience greater intimacy. Effective communication also tends to lead to higher relationship and sexual satisfaction, so prioritize better communication.
How to Communicate Respectfully
Now that you understand the importance of respect in communication, let’s look at how you can apply W.A.I.T and (Co)regulate next time a conflict arises.
Step 1: What Happened?
Acknowledge there was a shift in the conversation or your mood/feelings and say what caused it. Some reasons could be your perception of a behavior or your response to a behavior. Ex: Ok, WAIT. We are starting to yell and heading in that direction we know isn’t productive. I can tell I'm starting to feel a little defensive and feel an urge to leave.
Step 2: Acknowledge Emotions and Needs
Share the emotions and feelings that are coming up for you. This is helpful because you need to acknowledge and validate your feelings first by stating that they exist. Then your partner can witness and hold space for you. Talk about what you need to move towards decreasing the frustration, conflict, or hurt. Ex: "I feel ______ when ______ because ______." "I need ______." "What I would like is ______."
Step 3: Initiate a Break
Take a break from the conversation. When we are feeling those emotions, it becomes more difficult to hold space for one another and process information. You may start listening to speak and rebut instead of listening for understanding. So taking a break for about 20 minutes and then coming back can help you regulate yourself. To avoid feelings of rejection or abandonment, be clear about the time length for the break and the intention to come back together.
Step 4: Tend to Needs
This is the time to engage in self-soothing or help one another regulate emotions, body responses, and tension. Be mindful of the time and be sure to center relaxation NOT thinking about all the things you’re going to say later.
Self-regulating vs Co-regulating
Self-regulation and co-regulation are forms of emotional regulation. What’s the difference between the two?