Trust me, the volume is up—you’re just not speaking into the mic.

Do you feel heard? Do you get the results you seek when interacting with your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, and friends? Is there satisfaction and understanding in your communication? Or do you feel like you have the same frustrations and complaints over and over again?

Effective communication is a key component to healthy relationships, and it starts with you—and it’s time to shake it up.

Let’s start by breaking it down:

What is your communication style? Do you speak your truth or act it out? Do you deny what you need or secretly wish your partner had a crystal ball? If you have the desire to communicate with integrity, the first step is to acknowledge what you need to change.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think. How do you communicate in your relationships? Are you passive? Do you withhold in anger instead of saying what’s on your mind? Do you exaggerate and shout using “ALWAYS” and “NEVER” statements that can’t possibly be true? Do you minimize your own feelings? Is everything always “OK” and “FINE” with you? (Which is, again, not possible.) Were you taught that being honest is rude? Are you a martyr who never says anything to change an unfulfilling interaction, yet holds bitterness about it? Remember, you alone are responsible for how you communicate in your relationships.

There are only two ways to communicate: effectively and ineffectively. Below is a comprehensive list of communication characteristics. Take a look and see what resonates.

Ineffective Communication:
  • Indirect: not getting to the point; never clearly stating intention
  • Passive: timid, reserved
  • Antagonistic: angry, aggressive, or hostile in tone
  • Cryptic: underlying message obscured, requiring interpretation
  • Hidden: true agenda never directly stated
  • Non-Verbal: communicated through body language and behaviors rather than words
  • One-Way: more talking than listening
  • Unresponsive: little interest in the perspective or needs of the other person
  • Off-Base: responses and needs of the other person are misunderstood and misinterpreted
  • Dishonest: false statements are substituted for true feelings, thoughts, and needs
Effective Communication:
  • Direct: to the point; leaving no doubt as to meaning
  • Assertive: not afraid to state what is wanted or why
  • Congenial: affable and friendly
  • Clear: underlying issues are articulated
  • Open: no intentionally hidden messages
  • Verbal: clear language used to express ideas
  • Two-Way: equal amounts of talking and listening
  • Responsive: attention paid to the needs and perspective of the other person
  • Honest: true feelings, thoughts, and needs are stated

Create a snapshot of your communication style. If it is not what you want it to be, what right action are you willing to take to make it better? Can you allow yourself to be vulnerable or try something different?

For example, in college, I began to transform my own communication snapshot. I had always been sorely disappointed with my business-like relationship with my father. He was successful and dutiful, but distant and chilly. I was the fourth-born daughter to this star athlete who longed for a son. His communication snapshot looked like this: If he wanted you to close your car window he would point at you and motion, twirling his finger. He rarely spoke, and my sisters and I were all afraid of him. After blaming him for years with no satisfaction, I found a wonderful therapist who helped me realize that the only choice I had was to change the way I communicated and interacted with him. So I faced my fear of being vulnerable and spoke my truth.

Trust me, it was awkward at first, but with time and consistent effort, things changed, and we changed. I am forever grateful. He responded positively to my shift, and my fear fantasy of abandonment was not realized. We developed a relationship that thrilled me—and puzzled my sisters. The therapist helped me realize that my father did love me and, although his love did not come in the warm and fuzzy package I had fantasized about, it was still valid. She challenged me to feel loved by things like college tuition, a used car, and his inevitable final shout to “buckle up!” as I drove off. I learned to ask him for what I needed emotionally. This is not to say he could always do it, but my healing came from my right action of honoring my truth. My father died suddenly at the age of 61, and I was left with no regrets and a mountain of gratitude.

What relationships in your life need a communication overhaul? How do you want to communicate in your life? Now that you have a place to start, make a list of what is not working. Then, make a list of what right action YOU need to take to change that relationship and DO IT! You being authentically self-expressed = self-love. This right action creates the possibility of real intimacy.

When you change, the people in your life have no choice but to change. Human relationships are a dance: when you change your steps, your partner cannot do the same old dance or you will trip over each other.

How can people love you if they don’t know you? Dysfunctional communication separates us from the people we love. Explore your truth, then speak it LOUDLY.

You can do it, and are worth it.

Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. For almost two decades, Terri has empowered companies, celebrities, professional athletes, and individuals to Live Fearless and Free. Currently, Terri is wrapping up her first solo book project, “Flip Over and Float—8 Steps to Sustainable Change,” filming “The Conversation” for the Lifetime Network, executive produced by Demi Moore, set to launch February 2012. Terri can also be seen as the guest transformation expert on A&E’s Monster In-Laws. In addition to her website, Terri can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.