Last time we began a series on communication by looking at some unhealthy communication patterns. In reviewing that list, I must confess that I have, at one time or another, used every single one of those patterns. So, I am ready to look at some healthier ways to communicate.
Effective communication is about integrity—doing what you say and saying what you do. When we communicate honestly, the message we send clearly and accurately reflects the meaning we have in our heads. Honest communication is critical if you are going to connect with others in an accurate and meaningful way. Here are some suggestions for increasing the level of effectiveness in how you communicate.
Take responsibility for what you say. Good communicators are aware of their own ability to choose how they want to respond to another. They do not react to others, but rather express who they really are at the moment. Self-disclosure is their primary purpose for communicating. They know that their own thoughts, feelings and opinions are not controlled by someone else or by circumstances outside themselves.
Do not contradict. What the other person is saying is always valid for him/her. The primary purpose of communication is to mutually understand each other’s point of view. You may state your disagreement, but avoid the phrase, “Yes, but…” when you contradict another, you invite defensiveness or justification rather than clarification.
Keep your voice pitch and volume at a comfortable level. Screaming may help relieve you of anger, but it rarely invites others to listen to what you have to say. You generate more heat than light, and you invite others to defend themselves or tune you out.
Summarize and validate. Regularly take the time to summarize what you have heard, what you have said, and what you both have accomplished in the conversation. Be sure and include your own understanding of what the other has said. Validation means communicating, that given the other person’s perspective and beliefs, the way they feel makes perfect sense. Our willingness to consider the other person’s point of view as valid is what builds intimacy in relationships.
Listen to yourself and others. Do you like what you are saying and how you are saying it? Are you responding in ways that accurately reflect your true thoughts and feelings? Listening to others is half of the communication process. By listening to yourself, you might learn something about yourself as well as about the topic you are discussing.
Be direct. Speak your truth. Direct communication means you say what you mean and you mean what you say. We are not mind-readers. The more concise and direct the better.
Stay in the present. Talk about how you feel right now, not how you felt last week, last month, or last year. The past and future are too abstract and dependent on one’s own view.
Ask for what you want. Others cannot read your mind, your heart, or your stomach. No one can know what you are thinking, feeling, or when you are hungry…unless you let them know by making statements about yourself and asking directly for what you want. If you expect the other person to anticipate and guess about what you want, the likelihood is you won’t get it.
Plan ahead. Think about what you want to say before you start speaking. Planning ahead also means thinking about the other person. Is he or she more receptive to what you have to say before or after lunch? Is she or he having a good or bad day?
Avoid double messages. “I am not questioning your decision, I’m just wanting to know why you decided what you did” is an example of a double message. Double messages breed confusion, and create barriers to communication. Since there are always at least two messages sent, honesty is lost somewhere between them. Be clear and straight with messages.
Tell your truth. Even if the other person becomes angry or leaves the situation, tell the truth early in conversation. Refuse to let the other person’s attempt at manipulating you or denying the importance of what you are saying, detour you from speaking the truth. Choose to be honest. Don’t lie, even if you think it is going to get you what you want. It won’t. And the price of discovery is always too high.
Your verbal and nonverbal message should match. Do you ever say one thing and do another, insisting that what you are saying is the only message? Perhaps you say one thing and your body language is showing something different? Picture yourself saying, “I love you” with clenched jaws. Keep in mind that actions speak louder than words, and so does body language.
Next time, we will look at some practical ways to communicate effectively and explore the five levels of communication. In the meantime, speak your truth clearly and listen carefully to your children or partner. Communication is about building intimacy.
Fact: Families spend less time together than they did twenty-five years ago. In an era of unprecedented time-saving devices, we are busier than ever and less connected to one another. This is particularly true in families. In Bowling Alone, researcher Robert Putman comments on 40 years of tracking the American family. Forty years of observing and noting the changes in the family. His conclusion—substantial declines in quality time among family members; dramatic declines in social and civic participation. In fact, the title of his book comes from data showing that while Americans are bowling more, league participation has dropped.
So why an article on eating together? Simple. Most families do not eat together. In fact, Putman has observed a one-third decline in family dinners; despite the fact that most of the families report that they place a high value on family meals. One study, looking at teen behavior, found a strong link between regular family meals and a number of positive outcomes: academic success, psychological adjustment, lower rate of drug and alcohol use, and risk of suicide.
Another study, of children ages 3-12, found that time spent eating at home was a better predictor of academic success and emotional adjustment than any of the following activities: school, homework, athletics, arts and religious participation.
Be honest, for how many of you do family meals involve fast food eaten in the van between activities? Or, for how many do family meals happen in front of the TV.
What accounts for this decline in families eating together? Data seems to indicate that tow issues are involved. The first is increased working hours for parents. The second is even more insidious—overscheduled children and disconnected families. Frantic families have become the norm. Kids are involved in soccer, karate, piano, scouts, gymnastics, tutoring and religious youth activities. Family life now revolves around children’s activities. A University of Michigan study shows that, in the last few years, children have lost an average of twelve hours a week in free time. Outdoor activity time has dropped nearly 50% while structured sports time and passive leisure time (TV, video games) have both risen.
Not only are children busier, but families are spending less overall “quality” time together. Conversations between parents and children are all but non-existent.
What are the results: tired children who do not get enough sleep. Busy families who are driven more by activities than values. Disconnected families that do not talk enough or only in the van to and from events. Precious little unstructured time, like a family dinner, to catch up, breathe and share our lives.
So what? Take a hard look at your family routine. Is it overbooked? Are you tired and frantic? Do you believe that your child will actually be better off with more activities? Why not cut back on a few activities and spend some unstructured time with your children. Start by planning some stay at home dinners together. No agenda, just family talk. Just a thought.
If you would like more details on the studies I cited, call or email me: 520-721-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you plan to have healthy relationships, you must possess some effective relationship tools. One of the most important tools is communication, because the communication process is how we share who we are and what we want from a relationship. Communication is how we establish boundaries, and share our values, needs and concerns. Communication is how we solve problems, make decisions and resolve conflicts. Communication is the vehicle through which nurturing relationships are developed and the message of love is given. Ineffective communication can leave us frustrated, with our needs unmet.
Relational communication is about sharing information with another person. Communication is almost anything you do or don’t do. At any given moment during an interaction, you are simultaneously sending, receiving and decoding messages. Anything that causes some form of change (spiritual, emotional, physical or mental) in another person is communication. Non-verbal cues such as facial expression, silence or touch, for example, can convey as much meaning as spoken words. Effective communication happens when your message is accurately received by the other party and has the effects you desired. It is impossible to “not” communicate; effective communication is another story.
Effective communication is intentional; if you really want to communicate, you will work hard to do so. You will genuinely care and make sure your partner fully understands what you are trying to say. Behaviors that damage healthy communication are often used as weapons to defend ourselves or to attack another. Ineffective communication tends to be self-centered and self-protective. Below are examples of unhealthy communication.
Stonewalling—people stop communicating either because they don’t know what to say, are too afraid to say anything, or they use silence is a punishment. In any case, saying nothing abruptly stops communication. Communication is a “twoway street,” not a monologue.
Grilling—the communication version of 20 questions. One person harasses and harangues the other into a “confession,” or in other words, seeing it their way.
Mind-reading—occurs when one person assumes what the other is thinking or feeling without asking; then acts on that information as if it were true.
Blaming—is unhealthy for both parties, the “blamer” and the “blamee.” The blamer merely feels weaker and more helpless because assigning power or responsibility to another through blame, undercuts one’s own power and ability to respond. The blamee feels guilty or inadequate and simply quits communicating. Everyone loses.
Kitchen-sinking—is a scenario whereby a discussion of one issue ultimately opens the floodgates to a host of issues, most having little to do with the original topic. This is a great way to control or dominate a person or to shame them.
Accusations, criticisms, and negative innuendo—tend to disrupt the communication process in a dramatic way. These are the tools of a frightened, defensive or angry person. When we feel attacked, we want to defend ourselves. When we feel criticized, we become fearful, hostile or ashamed. When we are accused or criticized by innuendo, we feel helpless (or crazy).
The common theme of all these examples is a focus on self. These responses block the channels of communication. Effective communication is more than just words; it is the mechanism for growth and intimacy. Everyone communicates. The question is, “What are you communicating?” If you use any of the above, your communication is not only ineffective; it is destructive. Next time we’ll look at some healthier ways to communicate.