Communication is a two-way activity, with a message sent and a message received; ideally, these two messages would be identical…but they seldom are.
Communication during stressful times can be especially difficult. Emotions are high, and with lots going on, there is a higher chance of missed information and misunderstandings.
Here are some communication tips to ensure all family members feel heard:
Provide structure for conversations. Build family meeting times into your schedule and have guidelines for how the meetings will work. Encourage everyone to participate, but do not force it. If family members take turns talking, everyone will have an opportunity to be heard. Creating an environment with structured listening will increase the level of self esteem in family members.
Listening conveys powerful messages; you are important, I care about you, your feelings matter.
By having family meetings, you can deal with issues as they come up.
Turn off distractions and avoid interruptions. Family members must be able to focus on what is being shared. This means turning off TVs, computers, cell phones, gaming systems and anything else that could compete with the conversation.
Allow the person talking to finish before speaking. This is respectful and it allows all information to be shared. Interruptions can cause people to “shut down” and stop communicating. Interruptions cause frustration for everyone involved, not just the speaker.
Pick the right time. There are appropriate times to bring up specific issues. It is not a good time to bring up your child’s trouble with schoolwork when one of you are on the way to an important meeting. Timing is everything if you want your message to be heard.
Pay attention and actively listen. Focus on what the person is saying, rather than thinking about what your response will be. Information can be missed if the response is being prepared prior to hearing the entire message.
Plan ahead and be concise. Think about the message you want to share. Use words, body language and tone to communicate in a clear direct way. If a request is being made, determine what you want and ask for it directly. Wishing or hoping for the person to interpret what you want often leads to disappointment.
Especially when talking with children, voice your message in a positive manner. “Off the cuff” messages will often lead to confusion and misunderstandings. Try not to go off on tangents or the message gets lost.
Empathize and listen through the speaker’s experience. Feelings are real to the person experiencing them. It is important to respect and acknowledge feelings even if they are different than your own. It is possible to agree to disagree and still deal with the situation. Dismissing feelings can shut down communication and create mistrust.
Look at the situation through the “eyes” and viewpoint of the person speaking. Life experiences, cultural backgrounds, education and age are a few of the things that can impact conversations. When communicating with others, think about where they are coming from. This is especially important when dealing with family members who are younger or older than you.
Be truthful and stick to the facts. Emotions are often involved in discussions and people are typically very careful to not hurt someone’s feelings. Being truthful will actually enhance communication amongst family members and build trust.
Avoid assumptions. Assumptions can lead to incorrect messages being heard. Ask questions to confirm the message was communicated as intended. Especially with children, watch their behaviour after the conversation. Children will often act out if they are confused, feeling frustrated or angry.
Focus on the solutions. If the family is dealing with a problem, try to communicate with a focus on solutions. The first step is gathering all the information before trying to “fix” the problem. Work together to come up with a solution recognizing that the answer may be something that is a combination of several ideas, a compromise that is acceptable to everyone.
Continued communication within your family will build strong connections and give you the tools necessary to handle situations as they arise.