“Communication” is one of those relationship improvement buzzwords. It’s a frequently used term and most families would agree that they want to have good communication. However, what does that really mean and more importantly, how do you do it well?
The first thing to know about communication is that it is made up of two parts- speaking and listening. For communication to occur, both of these parts need to happen together. At any given moment, each party involved can only be doing one part, either speaking or listening. Put simply, effective communication can be thought of in terms of a mathematical formula:
Good Speaking + Good Listening = Good Communication
It should be noted that this is the only combination that will result in healthy communication. There are endless other arrangements that will not produce the same outcome. To illustrate this point, see the formulas below:
Speaking + Giving Advice ≠ Good Communication
Speaking + Trying to think what to say next ≠ Good Communication
Speaking + Listening with one ear, while listening to the TV with the other ear ≠ Good Communication
Okay, so now you have the formula. How do you make it work for your family? Though it’s hard to briefly sum up all the how-to’s of good communication, there are some helpful tips below.
Being a Good Speaker:
Be sure the person you are speaking to is actually listening.
In today’s fast paced, multi-tasking world, choosing when to communicate is just as important as knowing how to communicate. When you first walk in the door after a long day, when you’re about to open the mail, start dinner, respond to a voicemail your mother left this afternoon and go over your child’s homework, it may not be the best time to have a family sit down. Also, if your teenager is watching her favorite television show, while texting a friend, while also somehow managing to polish her toenails, shouting out random chores you want completed is not advised. If there’s a need for a big family discussion, try to be respectful of the other family member(s) who will be participating and try to schedule a time that works for everyone. If your teen needs you for something, let her know you want to hear her out, but now is not the best time, so schedule a meeting for later that evening or for the next day. If you want to tell your teen something, don’t jump right into what you have to say. Using a simple opening statement like, “Excuse me, I need your attention for a minute,” and waiting for eye contact can make all the difference.
When you say something, you may think you’re being clear, but your definitions may be different from those of your teen. Does your “clean room” look the same as your teenager’s “clean room”? You may expect that the bed is made, dirty clothes are put in the hamper, clean clothes are put away and the floor is vacuumed. For your teen, they may be happy if there are no plates with moldy food littered about. Say exactly what you want, not what you don’t want. “Stop driving me nuts,” is different than, “please lower your music and speak to your brother with your inside voice.” Also, be clear about what your expectations are for your child and what consequences may result if they don’t follow through.
Make your point and make it short. Your child will not hear a laundry list of chores, so only give one or two at a time and check back to see that your teen heard. If you need to speak to your adolescent about some concerns you have, stick to one or two things. Addressing too many topics at once can be overwhelming. It’s more important to have a short, effective conversation, rather than a long, rambling discussion that goes nowhere.
In some situations, parents feel stressed or overwhelmed and they let in come out in a conversation with their adolescent, “What’s the point? This doesn’t matter to you anyway.” However, taking this approach doesn’t serve as a motivator for your teen, but rather conveys hopelessness. When speaking to your teen, try to be positive. Be confident that they’ll do their chores, be hopeful that they can make better decisions and be optimistic that things are going to turn out well!
Being a Good Listener:
Be interested in your teen and in the conversation.
Though any parent will tell you that they are not especially fascinated in every topic brought up by their teen, showing interest in your child and what he has to say is extremely important. Even if the specific subject isn’t particularly captivating, remember that what your adolescent is talking about is important to him, so it should be important to you too. You want to be genuine, so don’t lay it on too thick, particularly when it’s not your favorite subject, nodding your head and appropriately smiling will do just fine. Conveying that you want to hear what your teen is saying will help keep the lines of communication open.
Give your undivided attention.
Your attention is undoubtedly the most valuable thing you can ever give to your teen. When you are listening to your child, give your full attention. Make eye contact, keep your phone on silent, shut off the television and hear every word she is saying. It can be difficult to find time to give such complete attention, but a few minutes of quality time is much more effective than hours of interrupted, half-involved, disconnectedness.
Keep your advice to yourself, unless asked.
Parents often want to help their children; after all, you’ve been there and done that, right? But, your teenager is a budding adult and he needs to learn how to make his own choices. Sometimes, talking out a problem is all your teen needs. Being a good listener does not mean giving the best advice, it just means having an open ear. Though sometimes it may be tough to bite your tongue, hopefully it will also take some pressure off since you don’t need to have all the answers!
Restate what you are hearing and ask questions to help clarify.
If being a silent listener sounds daunting, have no fear- being a good listener does involve some talking! However, what you choose to say is chosen specifically to get a better understanding of what your teen is talking about. One way to make sure you are clear is to restate what you heard in your own words. Say something like, “So, what I’m hearing is…” or “If I understand you correctly, you’re saying…” A second way to really know what your teen is saying is to ask her! Use clarifying questions like, “I don’t think I’m quite getting this. What do you mean by that?” Having a full grasp of what your teen is talking about is not the same thing as agreeing with everything she says. In the end, if a decision needs to be made, as a parent, you will still have final say. But, if you really understand what your teen wants, you may be able to come up with a compromise that everyone’s happy with!
For Good Speakers and Good Listeners:
Only take on one role at a time.
Throughout one discussion, it is okay for each to switch between speaker and listener roles, but be mindful of how and when this is done. Make sure whoever is speaking feels like his perspective was heard before you change up. You can do this by asking something like, “So, this is what I hear you saying… Is that right? Now that I get it, I’d like to share my thoughts.” Also, you can be very clear with your teen, “Okay, you are going to speak first and I’m going to listen. After you get your point out, I’m going to speak and you’re going to take your turn listening. Can we agree on that?” Switching quickly between roles does not lead to good communication, but instead can lead to a situation where everyone is fighting to be heard while no one is actually hearing a thing.
Be respectful and non-judgmental.
Whether you are speaking or listening, be respectful. Insulting your teen or her perspective is a surefire way to shut down communication. Respecting your adolescent’s view does not mean you think she is “right.” Think about how important respect is to you, so treat your child the way you want to be treated. Also, listen and speak without judgment. Your teen’s opinions are very valid to her, so don’t pass judgment on them. Even when you think she’s crazy, remember that if you put down her outlook, she’ll feel put down too. As a parent, you want to keep the door open for communication, so don’t shut it on your teen by being judgmental. When that’s hard to do, take a step back and remember what’s most important- your teenager is communicating with you!