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A Guide to Communication Skills & Strategies

The Skills & Strategies

“I feel statements” v Acusitoty statements
○ I feel statements de-escalate conversations by placing the focus on yourself rather than placing blame on the other person ○ Accusatory statements are more likely to trigger defensiveness in the other person, which often leads to escalation
○ Example: “I feel unloved when you don’t hold my hand in public”. Or “When you are distracted by your phone during a

conversation I feel disrespected and unimportant”.
○ Utilizing facts and observations and remaining objective is most effective when communicating e

Argumentative v Exploratory Conversation

○  The goal of communication should be exploration, not interrogation

○  The point of conversation is not to determine who is right or wrong

○  The point of conversation is to express how a situation made you feel in order to help the other person

understand you and vice versa

○  An exploratory conversation helps all parties feel heard and seen, validated and affirmed - which are

necessary to help find compromise/reconciliation/closure

Inquiring v Assuming

○  Assuming is writing a narrative about a given situation that employs assumptions instead of facts

○  Assuming places meaning on the other person’s words/actions that may not have been their intent

○  When you assume, it often ignites defensiveness in the other person

○  Assuming someone’s intent or meaning triggers defensiveness because the other person may then feel the need to defend themselves (react), rather than explain (respond)

○  Assuming often quickly leads to escalation and becomes a “tit for tat” argument rather than an exploratory conversation

○  Replace assumptions with inquiries - when you find yourself filling in the gaps of information you don’t know

is certain, turn those into questions.

-  Example of Narrative Writting/Assuming: “They don’t know how I feel. They always play the victim”.

-  Example of Inquiring: “I’m wondering if you’re able to understand how I feel in this situation”?

Active Listening v Inattentive Receiving

○  Active listening is...

-  Being present in a conversation with someone without outside interruptions or distractions (READ: CELL PHONES)

-  Hearing and acknowledging what a person has to say, not just waiting for your turn to speak

-  Ensuring the other person is finished with their thoughts before responding

-  Is responding, not reacting (explained below)

-  Eye contact and body language let the other person know you’re engaged, actively listening, and care about what they have to say

-  Acknowledging and reflecting help you stay with the conversation, confirm understanding, and validate the other person


○  Inattentive Receiving is...

-  Is like being an inanimate object a person is talking at, not to

-  It is also akin to “selective listening”

-  It’s defeating, disengaging, and disrespectful

Acknowledging and Reflecting

○  Acknowledging is...

-  When you repeat what the person has just said in your own words to demonstrate you’re understanding of their perspective, opinions, beliefs, feelings, etc.

-  A great way to begin a response before offering your own thoughts/feelings

-  Holding yourself accountable, taking responsibility, and showing remorse

-  Example: “It makes me really sad when you don’t hold my hand in public...I feel like you don’t even want to be with”

-  Example of Acknowledgment: “I hear you you don’t feel loved when I’m not affectionate towards you”


○  Reflecting is...

-  Like putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and using the feelings you’d feel to help demonstrate understanding

-  Like holding a mirror up - you’re reflecting the other person's feelings back at them

-  Example: “Going to the event alone made me feel really sad”

-  Example of Reflecting their feelings: “That sounds really lonely”

○  Reflecting and acknowledging help to deeper understanding and connection as well as help reduce tension and defensiveness

Fixing v Space Holding

○  Fixing is when someone responds with a way to make a situation better

(without being asked and based on their own considerations)

○  This often happens because the person feels unsure of how to respond

(we aren’t taught how to deal with negative emotions in school!)

○  This also happens when someone feels uncomfortable - they project their anxiousness onto the other person

by recommending how they should fix the thing in the way they themselves would in order to appease their own anxiety

○  Attempts to fix can cause the other person to feel invalidated, misunderstood, unseen, or unheard

○  Often, people just want a safe and comforting space to vent about their feelings

○  A great way to avoid causing someone to feel invalidated and to avoid placing pressure on yourself to solve someone

else's problems, is simply by asking this question at the moment, “How can I support you in this moment”?

○  Space holding is all the above techniques

○  Check out this for the best explanation/demonstration: Click Here


○  The tact with which we initiate a conversation is vital to its success of it

○  Conversation is most effective to ensure all people involved feel calm and have a cooperative mindset

○  Conversation is least effective when one or more people are in an activated emotional state


○  The tone of voice you use conveys a lot of meaning and feeling

○  Consider how you’re tone and word choice may cause the other person to misunderstand or misinterpret your message

(which often leads to narrative writing and assuming)


○  Ensure everyone feels emotionally and mentally prepared for a conversation by scheduling time for it in advance

○  Conversation is most effective when everyone agrees to a time and a place they feel comfortable with

○  This being said, it is also helpful to address things as they come up and avoid “shoving things under the rug” which is the

quickest and easiest way to create resentment

○  However, if you’re unable to engage in conversation at the moment because you or the other person is too activated

it is best to wait to till you both feel ready

○  Example: “I’m feeling too emotional to have an effective conversation, can we reconvene at a later time to talk through this”?

The Fare Fighting Act or Rules of Engagement

○  Whatever you want to call your rules/principles/guidelines, outlining directives helps prevent a conversation from

taking an emotional downward turn

○  It’s most effective to set aside time to write these out when everyone feels calm and cooperative

○  Everyone should feel comfortable with them

○  Best Practice: Post them somewhere to help remind yourselves of your plan in heated moments

Sympathy v Empathy

○  The difference between these two terms is important

○  Sympathy can cause someone to feel worse, regardless of intent, because as a society...

-  We often utilize sympathy because it’s the only consoling tool we’ve been taught

-  We often feel uncomfortable and unsure of how to respond to someone who’s experiencing a negative emotion

(partially because we also aren’t taught how to deal with conflict or negativity when our parents and elders

consistently say things like, “Be nice”)

-  We often draw from our own experiences to convey to the person that we know how they feel - but this

turns the focus away from them and onto you, which can cause them to feel dismissed, diminished, and invalidated

○  Empathy is similar to a reflection (see above)

- It conveys to the person that you see how hard the thing they are going through really is (even if you don’t understand)

○ Check out this for the best explanation/demonstration: Click Here

Reacting v Responding

○ Reacting is:

-  Argumentative, reactive, and often explosive

-  Placing yourself in a courtroom - ready to argue and defend your point of view

-  Using a narrative you’ve written based on your assumptions

-  Placing meaning on something someone says or does based on your narrative and assumptions

-  Personalizing - e.g., writing the narrative in a way that victimizes yourself and villainizes others, and therefore, not employing accountability and acknowledgment

-  Using assumptions as a form of justification

-  Focusing on the assumptions and narrative instead of considering a person’s true intent

-  Focusing on right and wrong

-  Often related to and/or caused by an inability to regulate emotions and tolerate distress

-  Produced by pure emotionality

-  Often lacks rationality

○ Responding is:

-  Cooperative, calm, and controlled

-  Placing yourself and others in a safe mental place, conducive to listening and understanding

-  Considering all the variables - the true intent, the true meaning of the message, and the delivery

-  Inquiring to fill in gaps in a story, instead of assuming and writing a narrative

-  Depersonalizing (not assuming someone meant to do something or say something explicitly to hurt you)

-  Focusing on feelings/emotions

-  Allowing space for all perspectives, feelings, and opinions at the same time! (aka Dialectical Thinking - the ability to consider more

than one perspective at a time)

-  Validating all perspectives, feelings, and opinions through active listening, acknowledging, and reflecting

-  Not focusing on right and wrong

-  Produced by rationality

Open v Closed Mindsets

○  Entering into a conversation with an open and positive mindset help set a calm and cooperative atmosphere

○  An Open Mindset is...

-  “Giving someone the benefit of the doubt”

-  Making a (positive!) assumption that everyone is trying their best and that they are being well-intentioned


The Better podcast
episode 45:athletes & mental health

In this episode, Brynne and Joe sit down to talk about athlete mental health, athlete identity, anxiety, and working on how to turn down the dial on those demons.

Navigating Anxiety with Brynne Goldberg, MA, LPCC

Navigating Anxiety with Brynne Goldberg, MA, LPCC

Play Video
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