Jul 8, 2017
The theme lately with several of my clients seems to be communication. I find myself saying similar things over and over to many of them, including with my online clients. Naturally that means a blog post is warranted!
Communication is the ability to send and receive messages clearly. The message’s intent is known to both/all parties involved. Messages can be verbal, non-verbal/physical and/or written. We communicate with dots and dashes, sign language, hundreds of spoken and written languages, flags, smoke, electronic or in person. Somehow, we still misunderstand one another! How is that possible?
Wife: Do you think you could take out the trash for me?
Trash does not go out. Why?
- Wife asks if Husband CAN take out the trash. Yes, he can. Will he? When? It’s not clear.
Mother: (to loud child) the baby is sleeping.
Child continues to be loud.
Mother: What did I tell you? Sssh.
Child: You said, “the baby is sleeping.”
- Mother did not tell the child to be quiet, only that the baby was sleeping. Child did not receive the correct message.
These are very basic examples of how a communication can be misunderstood. What we need are better skills at getting our needs and wants recognized and met. When we are born, the only way to communicate is by crying and other cues. Parents must learn to read these cues to meet the baby’s needs. Adults who are in the child’s life are usually the ones who set the example of what communication looks like in a family, and that child will go out into the world using that style: good, bad or downright ugly.
This is the message receiver’s role. It’s the parent who figures out a certain cry means hunger in the infant. It’s the spouse who is hearing his/her partner tell them about their day. You don’t talk during this part, other than some “uh-huhs” and “oh yeah, then whats”. Your mind may be racing through what happened in your day, or thinking about what to cook for dinner. You’ll miss a lot if you do that. Stephen Covey said that we don’t “listen to understand, we listen to respond,” and that causes a lot of breakdowns. If someone comes to you and says they need to talk, you stop what you are doing, and you look at them and you wait. And you listen quietly.
If you don’t understand something, ask. “Hang on, didn’t you say…?” or “I’m not sure what you mean by…?” Let them clarify what they’re trying to tell you. Active listening is another skill that can sound goofy if not done sincerely. “Let me tell you what I heard, so I know I’m understanding this…” And you repeat back what they said. This gives the other person a chance to clear up any part of the message that is confusing or incorrect.
LISTENING TO TEENS and KIDS
This is a trickier thing to do. Your teen may need your help and the last thing you want to do is say you’ll listen and then interrupt or have a massive (angry, upset, sad, worried) response to what they told you. Use the skills above, if you can’t keep it together, take a break! Go to the bathroom, splash water on your face. How you react to them is going to make or break your relationship. They want their parents love, attention, acceptance more than anything in the world. I don’t care if you don’t believe me, they do.
You have something heavy on your mind. You really want to talk to someone about it. Maybe you want advice but you also think you know how to work out the problem. You need someone to bounce it off of. So you ask your (insert your person here). First, ask, “Hey I was wondering if I could talk to you about something important. Is now a good time?” If it is not a good time, set a time or let them finish up a task they were working on. This is now the setting and you have the floor.
Now a good listener will help you clarify what you’re trying to say, but usually it’s helpful to begin with an “I message.” This puts the speaker in the forefront, especially if this is a confrontation. The structure is: I feel (EMOTION) when you (BEHAVIOR) because (RESULT). “Honey, I feel frustrated when you don’t take out the trash because we keep missing the trash pick up.” Chances are, the receiver of this message has noticed trash piling up and starting to smell bad. There is a consequence that has already happened and they know they have some responsibility in this. Then the speaker has an opportunity: “help me figure out a solution for this.” They’ve just invited the listener to engage in problem solving. There is no blame being placed on the listener, there is no disrespect or hurt feelings.
There are good texts out there with a lot more advice on how to have difficult conversations, like Crucial Conversations. They are geared toward kids, teens and adults of typical and specialized needs and cultures. I want to stress how important it is to work on being clear, calm and respectful when communicating with others. Imagine how much kinder a world we could be living in if everyone made the effort to listen better and speak with clarity and respect? Pass this along and maybe – just maybe – this could be the start of something beautiful.