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Not Just Talk

Family Communication: Illusion or Reality?

"Did you hear what I said, or did you hear what you think I said?"

Do communication styles lend themselves to particular misinterpretations? For example, a relater may see a thinker as uncaring or unfeeling. A director might seem bossy to you when to her, she's simply sharing her idea. You may be a detail-oriented thinker, when your spouse is an expressive and turns off when you go into detail. Don't take these responses personally.

Do you use different communication styles with different people? Your roles in the family may change your style in various relationships. Do you notice that with your daughter you are more directive, but with your daughter-in-law you are more expressive? Are you a thinker with your husband, but a relater with your children? You may naturally adapt your style to be more effective depending on with whom you are communicating. If you are a touchy-feely relater, and your spouse is a seemingly cold thinker, you two will communicate better if you both respect each others' styles and adjust your styles so that your partner can receive your messages as you intended.

Tips for effective family communication:

Know your own communication style and those of your family members. Learn how to adapt when interacting with loved ones who have different styles.

Listen. Epictetus, a Greek Philosopher (55–circa 135) said, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." If only my sister listened twice as much as she spoke! Some people are natural listeners, but for most of us, listening is a learned skill. To improve your skills, practice reflective listening:

1. Listen.

2. Paraphrase what you heard, and repeat it to your loved one.

3. Check to see if the message you received is accurate.

• Notice nonverbal cues or "body language." If you are sitting back in your chair with your arms crossed and looking around the room while your daughter is telling you about her day, she’ll get the message that you don’t care.

• Minimize the drama. Notice your feelings, but avoid reacting emotionally—stop, breathe, and reflect. When you are angry, avoid communicating in any form. It may be a conversation some family members will never let you forget.

• Use "I" statements, such as "I feel (this way) when you (say or do this); because I (have this reason) next time will you please (do this)."

• Make no judgments: Stick to the facts. If you really want to have open communication with family members, they need to feel you won't be critical or tell them what they "should" do.

Here's to building strong family bonds in the New Year by practicing effective communication!

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