Communication is the exchange and flow of information and ideas from one person to another. One straightforward definition: communication involves a sender transmitting an idea, information, or feeling to a receiver (U.S. Army, 1983).
Effective communication occurs only if the receiver understands the exact information or idea that the sender intended to transmit.
All of us have faced challenges in communicaton – both when trying to transmit information to someone who just “doesn’t seem to understand” our viewpoint, or when we refuse to see the viewpoint of others and they, not surprisingly, feel as frustrated as we do.
Taking care of babies and young children often highlights communication challenges since adults are forced to rely on cues other than direct language as they try to understand what a baby needs or wants. Babies and young children at least have the advantage of directness – crying is a very clear signal that something has gone wrong or an uncomfortable feeling is being experienced. However it is not always apparent exactly what the baby is “saying”.
Sadly, for a variety of reasons, as children grow they may become less direct in their communication, until they hardly know themselves what they want to communicate. Their message to others becomes increasingly hard to decipher. As adults, our communication often becomes less direct and our ability to hear direct messages from others is challenging.
Poor communication in families is associated with an increased risk of divorce and marital discord and behavior problems in children. So how can families work on upping their communications to be direct and thoughtful and to promote closeness and personal well being?
Do an assessment of where you stand by asking yourself these simple questions:
· Do you often feel unheard or misunderstood when communicating with a family member?
· Do you often have “hurt feelings” following a conversation with a family member?
· When feelings have been strong do communications become fraught with anger that remains un resolved.
· Do you experience anxiety if you want to raise a difficult topic with a family member?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then it’s time to do some practicing.
· Make communicating a priority.
Turn off the TV and other devices and talk as much as you can about a variety of topics. Barack Obama and Michelle structure dinner conversation with their kids: everyone goes around the table and talks about “thorns and roses”- the good things that happened and the negative things that happened during their day”.
· Technology allows for more mis-communication as well as increased communication.
If emails go unanswered, is that an expression of negative feeling? Develop some family communication rules.
· Communicate as clearly and directly as possible by taking a minute to think about what you want to say.
· Be an active listener.
If you find yourself making upsetting assumptions about something you hear stop and ask “ Am I hearing you correctly? Or is this what you are saying?”
For children it is especially important that parents establish a home where it is safe to say anything and anything will be responded to in a respectful manner.
· Think about the person you are talking with.
Young children don’t communicate like adults and they cannot be expected to communicate like adults.
John Gottman, an internationally eminent marriage researcher, found early on that patterns of communication predict marital satisfaction and can even predict in the earliest stages of a relationship, whether a marriage will endure.
For every negative communication, make sure there are five positive communications. Make sure to compliment family members in a genuine manner on a regular basis.
· Pay attention to non-verbal cues.
Sometimes you may hear verbal communications saying one thing but body language is saying something else. Make an effort to really understand someone else’s point of view.
Patterns of communication can take on a life of their own and define relationships and attachments. For instance, abused partners may tolerate abusive communication, accepting it as “normal” and familiar, despite its toxicity. If this psychological matter is not sufficiently resolved internally, one may terminate one abusive relationship only to repeat in another. Gossip may also become an habitual way to “indirectly” communicate and can be extremely malignant and destructive. These patterns can all change, but that process requires work and commitment.
A simple place to start this change process is to note when you are becoming upset, confused, or disturbed at what you believe someone is saying, pause, and repeat what you think you are hearing, starting with ” Am I understanding you correctly……..?”
Just that simple change will lead to more satisfying conversations, increased problem solving and less strife!