Good Communication Is Good for You

Effective communication builds healthy, emotionally fulfilling friendships, marriages, and family ties.

Studies show that people with supportive social relationships live longer and experience better health and greater satisfaction with their lives. Bad relationships contribute to stress, weaken the immune system and lead to feelings of frustration, low self-esteem, anger and depression.

Frequent misunderstandings and shouting matches are a symptom of poor communication. Whether you are dealing with a toddler, an emotional teen, a spouse, or an elder, you can transform a volatile environment, achieve peace at home and rise to new levels of understanding by improving your communication skills.

Effective communication has two important elements: understanding yourself and expressing your feelings in a positive way that does not antagonize your listener, and learning how to listen. 

Evaluate a conflict and try to identify the real problem. Is it your child's noisy play, or the fact that you are bothered by the noise because you have had a long day? By understanding who is upset, and why, you can find alternate ways to defuse the situation. 

Use "I" messages. Instead of "You're always late," say "I get upset when you're late because I feel you don't value my time."

Become a listener. When someone comes to us with a problem, we tend to respond before we have heard the whole story. Dr. Thomas Gordon, developer of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), identifies 12 roadblocks to communication: ordering or commanding; threatening; giving advice; persuading; moralizing; criticizing or blaming; praising; ridiculing; analyzing and interpreting; consoling and reassuring; questioning; and changing the subject.They are roadblocks because the moment we start doing these things, we stop listening and try to manipulate the situation. The speaker is prevented from arriving at their own conclusions, and ultimately from taking ownership of their problem.

By suppressing these reactions and concentrating on listening, we show respect, trust, and confidence in the speaker, and open the way for them to feel valued and appreciated. Learning to listen often requires a change of attitude. You might feel uncomfortable in the face of strong emotions, or have to accept that someone does not value the same things you do. 

Children model their listening behavior on the adults around them. When you change your communication style, family members will change too.

Here are some tips for communicating with children:

  • Stop what you are doing and give your full attention when your child wants to tell you something. If you are busy, specify a later time and place. 
  • Get down to eye level and communicate face-to-face.
  • Choose your battles. Save strong language and a loud voice for important situations, like stopping a child from throwing rocks or running into the street.
  • Do not try to deliver your message when emotions are high. Wait until your child is calm and in a receptive mood.. 
  • A child may need an adult to "mirror" their statements and guide them in expressing their feelings.
  • Remember that a child, and even an adolescent, can easily become emotional when they are hungry, tired, insecure, or disappointed.

Learning to communicate effectively requires education and practice. Many excellent books, workshops, and online seminars are available. If you need help tackling a difficult communication problem, ask your doctor to recommend a counselor or a local program.

Further reading:

Active Listening by Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson. (www.go-get.org/pdf/Rogers_Farson.pdf)

Empathetic Listening by Richard Salem (www.beyondintractability.org/essay/empathic-listening)

The 12 Communication Roadblocks (http://mobile.gordonmodel.com/home-roadblocks.php)

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