Communication, a lost art


      Plenty of examples are there for all to witness daily in the news and in personal events:  Lack of good communication skills and habits cause problems.  The way communication occurs, as much as what is communicated, determines the outcome and subsequent affects of the communication.  My opinion is that inferior interaction causes the majority of the conflicts and misunderstandings that plague our lives.  No one would disagree that the personal relationships in our lives are very important, and those with family members are prime.  To a large extent, how we function within our families will characterize how we will function socially.  And how societies relate to others is at the root of the world state of affairs. Many universities have entire schools devoted to the subject.  Here I will focus on family and close personal communication, but I think you’ll see that it translates well to the larger picture.

      Relationships can be defined by how we treat each other day-to-day.  I see the need for a shift from "etiquette, rules, and duty" to a realization that secure relationships, good judgment, and actions based on understanding and mutual respect, will produce mutually beneficial functionality in all relationships.  Conflict is inevitable in family life.  You should not surrender to hopelessness nor simply ignore these incidents assuming things will work themselves out.  Every conflict is potentially an opportunity to strengthen our family bonds, or an event which weakens them.

      To begin, the needs and motivations of each family member must be understood and accepted.  The family should function such that the needs of each member are addressed if not met.  The extent achievable will be determined by the level of participation and compromise by each member.  Full communication is an essential component of this effort.  Everyone in the family from infants to grandparents must be free to communicate their needs without fear.  There is also an assumption that those involved actually want to maintain healthy relationships and participate in efforts to continuously improve the necessary interactions.

      To achieve this and resolve conflicts successfully, methods of reliable communication must be established.  Innocent comments, good intentions, and attempts to compromise may all be distorted by poor communication.  For instance, your most justifiable statement may be nullified if you are yelling it.  A few guidelines follow, but you should establish a process that works for you and yours.

 

Communication Stumbling Blocks

      It is very difficult to discuss troublesome matters without resorting to all kinds of tactics and postures that may seem to work for you, but actually break down the process.  This is true for sibling-to-sibling, parent-to-child, and all other interaction. You must learn and avoid these:

·         COMMANDING – Directing or demanding something from someone will result in, at least, resentment.  You may get what you want now, but eventually dictating another’s actions leads to some form of rebellion. (Authoritarianism is necessary in situations where danger exists and parents have no choice but to protect their children. Example: A young child insists on trying to touch a light bulb. As a child understands more, “orders” can decrease.)

·         THREATENING – Terrorizing someone with promises of harm or punishment will lead to the same resentment and rebellion mentioned above.

·         MORALIZING – Pointing out the moral aspect of situations may be appropriate in non-stressful discussions. During arguments and conflicts it may be taken as a personal attack.

·         ADVISING – When people want advice, they’ll ask for it.  Most of the time, when someone comes to you with a problem, they simply want someone to listen.  They may want help resolving the situation, but rarely want another to provide a cut-and-dried answer.

·         BLAMING – You should be able to let others know how you feel.  Placing blame, however, does little to help reach solutions.

·         CONDESCENSION – Obviously making veiled statements that place you above another will not foster open communication.

·         NAME CALLING – Most people will resort to this in moments of anger.  The names used are usually not accurate and lead to resentment and breakdown of real interaction.

·         PSYCHOANALYZING – Leave this to the professionals.  Others will not respond well to opinions about their personality or mentality.

·         SYMPATHIZING – Similar to advising, most people want someone to hear and understand them.  Sometimes sympathy may be misconstrued as insincerity or an avoidance tactic.

·         INTERROGATION – A stream of unrelated questions will frustrate most.

 

Listening

Most of us do not listen very well.  We may disregard another’s statements as inaccurate or unnecessary, or we may be thinking ahead to what we will say next.  Some ideas to improve listening skills might include:

·         Look at the person speaking and intently listen.

·         Ask questions only to get complete understanding. Remember, no interrogations.

·         Let others completely state their feelings without interruption.

·         Encourage others to speak up when they seem reserved.  Sometimes people will hold back fearing rejection or embarrassment.

 

Speaking

When making a point, refrain from starting sentences with “YOU”.  Use “I” messages instead.

·         Describe the event (not the person) that upset or concerns you

·         Describe how it makes you feel.

·         Explain why it makes you feel this way.

 

      It will be difficult, but you should focus on what is happening right now or the current situation, not what has happened in the past, and not what may happen in the future.

      We are usually taught from an early age to suppress feelings.  It is very important that you search your heart to realize and then describe the real feeling and the real reason for your distress.  Make sure you are speaking for yourself and not what you believe another thinks you should say.

 

Problem Solving

      The following text describes problem solving methods used in business where the interference of emotion, prejudice, and personal problems can cause monetary loss.  It can be applied to familial and social situations as well.  There are generally three approaches to solving conflicts. The first entails one party dictating the answer to others.  Another entails one party giving in before all concerns are addressed.

      When an agreed-upon system of problem solving is in place, no one needs to fear or avoid conflict.  The process is invoked and everyone can feel confident that they will be treated fairly even if they do not get everything they want.  Generally, when a conflict between two people arises, one individual should ask the other to participate in a joint effort to resolve it to the satisfaction of both.  Either may suggest solutions, which are evaluated. They then agree how to carry out the essential actions. No coercion is required.  It is a WIN / WIN situation. No one loses.  You must first identify who “owns” the problem.  If it does not really involve you, you may choose whether to help or not.  Again sometimes people just want someone to listen and then they will decide what to do on their own.

      After an agreement to work on a problem is reached, these steps should be taken:

 

·         IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM - State a clearly understood problem. Declare a goal of what the desired state is.

·         ANALYZE THE PROBLEM - Identify the causes of the problem and target them. Note: After an analysis is complete it may be necessary to revise the problem statement because the “real” problem is discovered.

·         GENERATE SOLUTIONS – Create a list of potential solutions.

·         SELECT A SOLUTION – Arrive at a consensus of the best solution. Prepare a plan for implementation.

·         IMPLEMENT THE SOLUTION - All involved in the solution should carry out their assignments and monitor the progress.

·         EVALUATE THE RESULTS – At a predetermined interval talk about the short comings of the solution measured against the goal. Repeat the process until resolution.

      This WIN/WIN method can resolve conflicts between individuals or between groups.

 

      You have to keep trying.  A failure or two will present an excuse to revert to power.  Power is acquired when one person possesses what another needs – reward; or, when one person has the means for inflicting pain on another - punishment.  Inevitably whether it’s a teacher, a spouse, a dog trainer, or a parent, or any other “leader”, they will run out of power, with no method to further influence the actions of the other.  We need to understand that we will have more influence if we do not use power.  Some myths related to power are:

·         You can use power wisely.

·         You can be fair in the use.

·         You can temper tyranny with love.

      It is not a stretch to see the flaws within these beliefs.

 

      It is my opinion that a vast improvement in our lives could be made if we followed some simple rules for enhanced communication, especially in difficult situations.  I encourage you to begin improvement within your family and other close relationships.  This can only translate to progress in the larger world…

 

 

Michael D. Welch

 

 

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