Five Keys To Great Communication
By Paula Fellingham
February 24, 2015
Communication is key to having good relationships, so here are 5 tips to building GREAT communication.
Before we can teach our children to communicate well, we should learn how to do it. Let’s begin with a story on communication:
A construction worker approached the reception desk in a doctor’s office. The receptionist asked him why he was there. “I have shingles,” he said. She took down his name, address, medical insurance number, and told him to have a seat.
Fifteen minutes later a nurse came out and asked him what he had. “Shingles,” he replied. She took down his height, weight, and a complete medical history and told him to wait in the examining room.
A half hour later, a nurse came in and asked him what he had. “Shingles,” he replied again. She took his blood pressure and temperature, then told him to take off his clothes and wait for the doctor.
An hour later, the doctor came in and asked him what he had. He said, “Shingles.”
The doctor asked, “Where?”
He said, “Outside in the truck. Where do you want me to put ’em?”
Let’s talk about communicating positively. In the book Secrets of a Strong Families, it says: “Good communication isn’t something that just happens among strong families. They MAKE it happen.”
Family members who communicate well also know how to laugh together. They enjoy a sense of humor. They’re able to openly express their feelings, differences, similarities and hopes for the future. When family members listen carefully to each other they communicate an unspoken but powerful message: “I care about you enough to listen to what you have to say.”
Learning and strengthening communication skills doesn’t mean an END to all problems; it doesn’t mean that strong families don’t have conflict. They do. Family members get angry with each other, misunderstand one another and sometimes just disagree. But when they communicate they’re able to get their differences out in the open where they can talk about them, discuss the problem and come to a satisfactory solution which is agreeable for everyone. That doesn’t mean that the solution will give all involved exactly what they want, it just means they’ve reached a common ground upon which they can agree.
Here are Five Keys To Great Communication:
Use Good Self-talk and Positive Self-fulfilling Prophecies.
Usually when we think about communicating, we think about how we talk to others. How about the way we talk to ourselves?
How we’re spoken to often determines how we feel about ourselves. Those feelings, either good or bad, help determine our self-talk. An example of negative self-talk is, “I’m so stupid!” An example of good self-talk is to think, “That’s not like me – I usually don’t make mistakes like that!”
Children who are spoken to kindly, hearing praise and positive comments usually have good self-talk. Conversely, children who speak to themselves negatively, many times have been spoken to unkindly. The good news is that children can adapt and change fairly quickly. It’s been my experience that when parents learn how to speak kindly and communicate positively with their children, those kids quickly respond to the new words of love, and their self talk improves dramatically.
Self-fulfilling prophecies are things people say to us that sometimes affect the way we act. For example, if a child is told, “You’ll never be a good athlete!” he may believe it and never improve his athletic skills. On the other hand, positive comments work wonders. Example: “You are a very obedient boy!” This type of comment encourages obedience by helping the child believe he always obeys. It is so important to speak positively, because people usually become what they are told they are.
Listen to some negative and positive comments which can help determine behavior and character: I’ll give the wrong way first each time.
“You’ll probably fight over this new toy.”
“I know you’re going to share this new toy because you are such sharing children.”
“You never obey me!”
“I’m sure you’ll obey right away next time because you usually obey me.”
“You kids are always quarreling!”
“It’s not like you to quarrel. You usually get along so well.”
From their earliest years, children can be cautioned when they begin to use negative self-talk. When they speak negatively, we can teach them how to think and talk positively. Here are a few examples:
When your child says, “I can’t do this.”
You would teach them to re-state their feelings to say, “I’m having trouble with this. I’ll try it again.”
Or when they say: “I’m ugly.” You can teach them an alternative:
“I want to look better. How about if I….change my hairdo?” Teach them to try and focus on possible solutions to their problems rather than just defining the problem.
Here’s another one: “Our family just can’t do math.”
“Math isn’t what we’re best at, but look at all the problems I did right!”
Try To Understand Before You Try To Be Understood.
Trying to understand BEFORE being understood means that we’re more interested in others than in ourselves.
We can understand in 3 ways:
Think about being that person for a moment…with their life experiences, their needs and desires.
Watch their body language for clues which tell how they’re feeling.
Listen very carefully – focus on their words – not on what you’ll say next.
Sometimes the root of our problem is that we speak in a way that isn’t clearly understood, or we say things in a way that puts people on the defense.
Use “I MESSAGES.”
This is how it works:
Start with the word “I” “I…
Add what you’re thinking, feeling or needing. …need some help getting these dishes done…
Explain why …because I have to leave for work.”
Here’s another example: “I feel upset when you’re late, because we all agreed to be home for dinner at 6:30 each night.”
“I feel sad when you disobey, because you helped make our family rules, and you know better.”
You know, it’s not always WHAT is said, but HOW it’s said that creates happiness or unhappiness. Before we speak it would do us well to remember the Golden Rule and speak in a way that we’d like to be spoken to.
Here’s the right way:
“I’ve noticed that sometimes you…”
“I feel upset when you…”
“Help me understand what you’re thinking…”
And the wrong way:
“You always or you never…” (Absolutes are always trouble)
“You make me angry when you…”
“Why do you…”
Mother and daughter talking holding hands teenHOW we say things makes such a huge difference. At first, using these ideas – speaking in a way that doesn’t always come naturally, will be challenging. My children were little when I started saying things like, “It’s just like you to obey the first time, because you always do!” But many people make a change to speak more positively when their children are older – and it IS awkward at first – for everyone! But as you continue speaking that way it WILL become natural, and everyone will enjoy the rewards.
The difficulty of changing the way we do things reminds me of the old story about THE EASTER HAM:
Every year a family carefully chose a large ham for their holiday dinner, but the mother always cut off the end before she baked it. One year the daughter hosted the meal and her new husband asked why she cut off the end of the ham before she cooked it. “Because that’s the way my mother always did it,” she said.
“I don’t know why either,” her mother replied when they asked her. “But that’s the way my mother always did it.” Everybody at this point was curious enough to call the grandmother to ask her why she cut the end of the ham off before cooking it.
“Simple,” she responded. “I never had a baking pan big enough to hold the whole ham!”
If there is a better way, we don’t have to use the same parenting skills our parents did. It’s a special challenge to change our way of speaking after years of habit, and years of hearing things said to us in sometimes less-than-positive ways. The key is to have a willingness to do whatever it takes to communicate in positive ways.
We could say that communication is a two-way street with lots of traffic signs and billboards. To really communicate we have to be able to read the signs as we drive and watch for oncoming traffic. Let’s view those two sentences from three angles.
First, “Communication is a two-way street.” Two or more people need to participate for real communication to exist. If we, as parents, are the only ones talking, and our children aren’t listening, we’re not communicating. There’s a saying, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” We need to be sure our children know without a doubt that we love them, and that we truly care about their well-being. Then, with confidence in our love and concern for them, usually our children will more readily listen to us.
Second, I believe that as we communicate with our children they give us “lots of signs and billboards” to both direct us and distract us. What our children say doesn’t always reflect their honest, heart-felt feelings. As parents we need to be constantly “reading the signs” of our children’s body language, the expressions on their faces and their tones of voice. Sometimes we need to listen “between the lines” and try to hear what they’re really saying, try to understand how they’re honestly feeling. Parenting expert Peter Drucker once said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
Third, “We will have to watch for oncoming traffic” could mean that as we talk to our children we should expect occasional negative or hurtful words (oncoming traffic) which they don’t really mean, or which they unintentionally communicate badly. Again, we have choices. Three wrong ways we could react to unkind words are to be offended, to “get even” by retaliating, or to stop talking. As parents we have the responsibility to teach our children productive behavior by our example. When the oncoming traffic is heavy and harmful, we should choose to use a communication skill that will prevent a collision, and steer the conversation onto smooth roads
A key to communicating well with our children is to try to remember what it was like to be a child or young adult. Whether the one you’re talking to is 3, 13 or 23 years old, try to be that age in your imagination while you’re communicating. Try to “walk a mile in their shoes” and think about being them, with their life experiences, their needs and desires. Then you’ll be able to use the understanding from that perspective, and add it to the wisdom of your adulthood. The result will be a wonderful place from which you can communicate with empathy and discernment.
Another key to communicating well with our children, and to teaching them how to communicate well, is to learn how to listen.
Listening is more than just hearing words. It’s trying to understand people’s message and feelings. Teach your children that to listen well they (and we parents) need to do six things:
1.Show you’re listening. Face the person, maintain eye contact, and have an interested facial expression.
2.Be interested in what the person is saying and concentrate on the words.
4.Watch the speaker’s body language. We all communicate much through our facial expressions, posture, etc.
5.Actively listen. We should check if we understand by occasionally paraphrasing or repeating what the speaker says. This lets the person know we’re listening and interested.
6.Respond kindly. When the time is right, we should use empathy as we share our feelings about what has been said, in a way that will help the person.
Listening well is a virtue that both children and adults should seek to develop. As we listen with open hearts and minds we learn much, and we discover how to best contribute to the happiness of others.
Communicate Openly, Frequently and Honestly
One characteristic of a strong family is communication that is kind, open, frequent and honest. Sometimes we expect others to know exactly what we want, or need, even when we say little or nothing at all. Perhaps unkind remarks by others keep us from being open and honest – we’re afraid of being hurt or embarrassed. It’s very important that family members say only kind, supportive things when someone is sharing their feelings. We should never laugh, or criticize in any way. Instead we should try to understand how the person is feeling, and listen with the intent to help.
When we can say what we really think to supportive family members, good things usually happen:
We know our family cares about us.
We believe our opinions and concerns are important.
Problems are prevented because they are discussed in advance.
Several people can help find solutions to problems.
Families are closer and stronger because they help one another.
In our efforts to be open and honest, we should always remember to be kind. In the name of “honesty” sometimes we can easily hurt feelings, and weaken relationships. In the Disney movie “Bambi,” the rabbit Thumper gives wonderful advice: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”