One of the largest problems identified when looking at deteriorating peace in families is the lack of communication among the family members. This can mean parents not communicating effectively between themselves, siblings not communicating well to one another, or a breakdown in communication between the parents and children.
It is important to note that communication isn’t only important when creating healthy familial relationships but also friendships, dating relationships, and even business partnerships. However, while you can feasibly break up with a romantic partner or quit a job, it is a much bigger ordeal to leave a family. For that reason, family problems due to a lack of communication are of utmost importance.
Know the Ratios
Communication can be improved in so many different ways, both on the side of the listener (or listeners) and on the side of the speaker. First, all parties in the family must realize the difference between a conversation and a lecture – parents included. In a lecture, it is one side doing the talking.
Conversely, a conversation is split relatively equally between all parties. It would follow that in a conversation between a mother and her son, each would talk about 50%, or that in a conversation between a family of four each would talk 25% of the time.
Active Listening – the Main Key to Improve Communication
However, the most important part of communication is not in talking but in the listening. When trying to improve communication, it is imperative that you actively listen to what the speaker is trying to communicate.
Do not daydream, interrupt, or start formulating a response before they’ve finished speaking, and do not ‘check out’ of the conversation if you begin receiving negative feedback.
Instead, face them directly with your whole body to show them that they have your full attention. You may nod to show you’re hearing them. Put away any distractions – put down your phone, pause or shut off any movies, television, or games.
If it isn’t possible to immediately turn off and put away the distraction, make sure to quickly communicate that, and follow it up with a resolution and timeline. For example, “I’m sorry, but I’m on a work phone call. It should be done in ten minutes and then I will come to find you and give you my full attention.”
How to Communicate Through Speech
While listening is the most crucial part of communication, talking still does play a large role. The speaker, like the listener, should pay attention to body language. When you’re speaking, are you talking to your children over your shoulder in the car? Are you standing and pointing accusatorily downward at the person sitting? These are negative signs of body language. Instead, face the listener with your full body, giving them your full attention. Stay on their level, so if they’re sitting, remain seated.
The Way You Talk
If you are initiating the conversation, use “when you, I feel” statements, which feel less accusatory. For example, rather than saying “you never want to spend time with me,” try saying “when you stay at work past my bedtime, I feel like I’m not important to you.” Making assumptions and jumping to conclusions is a common misunderstanding in family relationships, and using “when you, I feel” statements helps to mitigate that because often we have a statement which is our own feelings on the topic, rather than the other’s real intent, which we do not know until opening up that conversation.
Most importantly, the speaker should be brief. Going off on a tangent, floundering or providing numerous vague examples of situations are hard to listen to and make the listener feel like they must respond to each instance rather than the problem as a whole.
How Effective Communication Works
To demonstrate this, let’s look at a conversation between two parents and one child both before and after learning these communication skills.
Mother and Father, both standing, ask their teenage daughter Ellen to sit down at the table.
Father: “Ellen, we are moving across the country at the end of the month for my work.”
Ellen lets her shoulders sink, obviously upset: “In a month? That’s before school ends! I’m going to a new school in the middle of the year? This isn’t fair! Why do you hate me so much?”
Mother: “Ellen, we didn’t do this to-“
Ellen, interrupting: “Yes you did! I hate both of you!”
Ellen runs out of the room, crying.
There are obvious issues with that situation. Now, we will employ our communication strategies.
Mother and Father walk into the living room, where Ellen is laying on the couch playing a game on her cellphone. The mother and father sit on the couch next to her.
Mother: “Ellen, do you have a moment? We need to talk to you about something.”
Ellen turns off her phone and puts it in her pocket, then sits up to face her parents. “Sure, what’s up?”
Father: “Unfortunately, my company has transferred me across the country. I know you’re done with school in two months, but I have to be there in a month. I know this news is upsetting.”
Ellen: “That is really upsetting. I really wanted to graduate with my friends that I grew up with. If I had to start a new school in the middle of the year, I don’t know what I’d do. Can’t we stay here another month? Please?”
Mother: “I understand that you would be uncomfortable in a new school. However, we do already have a buyer for the house so we can’t stay. Maybe you could be homeschooled or do online classes that last month? I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I will talk to school tomorrow when I drop you off.”
Ellen: “Doing online school does sound better than having to be around a bunch of strangers. But I really did want to go to my friend’s graduation party.”
Father: “Well, my company has some internships open in the new location. Maybe I can get you one and you can save up for a plane ticket back to visit and attend that party. How does that sound?”
Ellen: “I’d really like that. Thanks, Dad.”
There is an obvious difference when communication tips are used. It leads to a much more productive and happy family conversation with good outcomes on all sides. In the first one, the parents were physically looking down on Ellen, leading her to be defensive. Ellen responded by interrupting, getting upset and eventually running out of the room.
However, in the second one, Ellen voices her concerns: having to go to a new school with strangers and missing her friend’s party. Her parents propose solutions to these problems and ask for feedback without giving in to her overall wish to stay, which isn’t possible with the father’s job. Because all parties involved had good communication skills, they were able to come up with a compromise.
Without the knowledge of communication skills, families keep heading down that same path of lack of communication leading to misunderstanding after misunderstanding that results in more family problems down the road.
The good thing about it, however, is that it all is in your power to change the situation. We can’t live without one another and I believe that we should at least try to listen to one another and respond in a non-offensive manner. Otherwise, negative communication will bring about a deeply hidden or even obvious depression, often retardation at work, and other poor consequences.