Relationships are defined as the way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected.

So, if relationships are connections, they go far beyond just our family, friends or significant others. We have relationships with co-workers, coaches, teachers, or even with that annoying neighbor whose dog leaves presents in your yard.

Not all relationships are enjoyable, and some even cause pain.

Relationships are difficult because we have no control over the thoughts, emotions or behaviors of another person. A time will come when someone does or says something that needs to be addressed. More often than not we will find ourselves reacting, rather than handling it in an effective way.

Common issues that often get in the way of us being effective are: trying to solve an issue when emotions are high, fixating on irrational thoughts or beliefs, lacking the confidence to say no, or being afraid to ask for something.

Here are a few tips that can improve your relational effectiveness.

Know your objective. Before you talk to the person, think about your desired outcome. Are you trying to get something you want, need or deserve? Do you want the person to stop or start doing something? Do you want it to strengthen your relationship? Are you trying to improve or maintain your self-respect? Or do you just simply want to be heard?

Timing is key. Sometimes, timing is just as important as the words we are saying. If the person is emotional or having a bad day, what we say might not be received the way we desire. Effective delivery is best achieved when you and the other person are in the right state of mind.

Once you know your objective, describe the situation. Use facts and stay away from assumptions, judgments or blaming.

Express your emotions by using “I feel” statements. “I feel worried when you come home so late.” Talking about your own feelings first can help decrease defensiveness in others.

Assert yourself. Be clear in what you are asking for or what you are saying no to. Even if this is not one of your strengths, it is important to appear confident in your delivery. Confidence is more achievable when you already know what you want or need to say.

Reinforce your request by including a positive reward or by setting a consequence. “I will be less likely to nag you if you would let me know when you are going to be late.”

Stay on topic. Don’t bring up the past, and try hard to ignore attacks from the other person.

Lastly, be willing to negotiate. Focus on what will work for you both. Not everything has to be black and white.

Becoming effective in relationships takes practice, so remember these tips and apply them when the next conflict arises.

Philip Searcy MSW, LISW-CP is a therapist for adults and adolescents with Psychological and Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.