“Real communication is meaning transferred from one mind to another – not simply the exchange of words.”
You have probably seen the cell phone commercials portraying what happens when a phone call is dropped at the precise time the caller has shared some monumental, life-changing experience and is waiting for approval or returned excitement – only to be left holding a ‘dead phone’.
What happens next? The caller starts to assume what the other person is thinking and feeling. Always, they assume incorrectly and that the other person does not share their enthusiasm about the situation or for their idea.
What happens when you assume what your child is thinking or feeling because you have ‘dropped’ communication?
I want to share with you some proven strategies that can help you have effective communication with your family.
When you use effective communication, you reserve judgment. How many of you have been involved in a dialogue, only to realize that you are formulating your response as the person is talking? We are always interpreting and judging what is being said. This hinders true communication.
I also encourage you to pay attention to body language when you are communicating, both yours and the person you are speaking with. It has been said that 55 percent of all communication is done through body language. Have you ever noticed that when the words someone is saying don’t match the person’s body language, we tend to believe the body language? The little voice inside your head says, “Something doesn’t add up here.”
Use your ‘I’ statements. Effective communication cannot happen when someone feels defensive or backed into a corner. How do the following statements make you feel?
“You never do what you say you will do; you are lazy, and you refuse to pull your weight.”
“You are never home on time and leave me here to do all the housework.”
“You take me for granted.”
If this was being said to you, chances are you would have shut down and stopped listening. Or, you are so angry that you have stopped listening. Maybe you’ve even heard this so often that you never even started to listen! What if the sender of this message had made the following statements instead?
“I feel frustrated when you don’t follow through on your promises.”
“I sometimes feel like I am the only one pulling my weight.”
“When you don’t come home on time, I worry and don’t feel validated that I am important to you.”
“I love you, but sometimes I need more from you, do you think we could talk about this?”
What would your response be now? I am guessing that while you may not agree with what was said, you would be willing to discuss this situation in an attempt to clear the air and resume the relationship.
This leads into one of the foundational skills required in effective communication. That is, good listening skills. Too often, we charge off to ‘fix’ the problem without all of the information because we did not take the time to listen. As a listener, you must also empathize with the other person. Empathy is not agreement, but it acknowledges that there is a valid reason for the person to be sharing the information with you. It shows that you are capable of understanding the depth of emotion they are communicating. When you can do this, you are able to validate the person’s position. Sometimes they just need to know that their comments are being heard and considered, regardless of whether you can ‘fix’ their issue.
Finally, good listeners are willing to suspend their judgments. This allows you to honestly hear all that is being said. I once heard someone say that feelings have no right or wrong to them. They are just feelings. It is how you act upon these feelings that make a difference. This may be the most difficult step for a good listener: to not assign a ‘good/bad’ or ‘right/wrong’ to the statements being shared.
People only care about what you think if they feel like you care! If you are constantly giving advice, children will see your statements as judgments, not as caring remarks. Use your times of advice sparingly and preferably when requested, especially as they get older.