Families are busier than ever and one of the things I find they often struggle with is effective communication. When a family describes a situation where they feel “stuck” or as though they tend to face the same problems on a frequent basis, improving the family’s communication skills can be very helpful. Having effective communication between family members not only reduces negative interactions but also allows them to solve problems in a productive way. Communicating effectively helps family members tackle one problem at a time as they arise and prevents them from piling up and causing negative interactions between family members. Positive communication also helps every family member feel valued and understood. Using productive, respectful communication models these skills for children to help them become more effective communicators and problem-solvers. Below are some basic communication guidelines for listening and talking to each other.
- Listen carefully to others’ points of view and ask questions to make sure you understand their concerns to avoid “mind reading” (i.e., saying you know what other people think)
- Use active listening techniques such as having good eye contact, leaning forward, and nodding.
- Avoid looking away, using the silent treatment, or crossing your arms, etc.
- Let each person completely state his or her thought without interruption
- Give feedback by paraphrasing or restating to make sure family members are truly understood by others
- Use a natural and neutral tone of voice instead of yelling or talking loudly
- Use appropriate facial expressions and avoid scowling, eye-rolling, or using antagonistic facial expressions towards others
- Use brief statements of 10-15 words or less to avoid long lectures
- Use “I statements” and take responsibility for your own actions
- Use direct and specific language such as “Please talk to your sister in a respectful manner” and avoid vague statements and use of negative questions such as “Why do you always do that?”
- Make constructive statements such as “Something is bothering me; can we discuss it?”
- Say what you mean and be specific and straightforward to avoid sarcasm
- Stay on one topic and focus on the here and now to avoid bringing up old issues or past behaviors
- Express feelings to others appropriately and do not use putdowns or name calling
Using effective communication keeps conversations productive and helps everyone move toward a solution without getting stuck in a negative cycle. Using poor communication can contribute to frustration, anger, and interferes with true problem-solving. Try these ideas to improve communication and problem-solving in your family.