One of the major problem areas I encounter in my counseling practice, is the inability of people to communicate with one another in a respectful manner. Parents, children, couples and individual adults express difficulty in talking to and being heard by others, especially family members. As a result, problems seem to mount because no one is able to achieve resolution.
Relationships should never be “battlegrounds.” There is no reason to “do battle” and compete with one another. If an argument ensues (which will happen sooner or later), the goal incorrectly becomes “winning” the argument, instead of finding resolution. One person may be so intent in getting his or her point across, that no one listens to what the other person is saying. Intimidating or yelling at someone is unnecessary, counterproductive and abusive! The more frustrated or angry we become, the greater the possibility for saying or doing something hurtful. We need input from others to find the best solution. No one should ever just settle. This just creates further disagreement and difficulty.
The following are some suggestions that can aid in creating dialogue and respectful communication:
1. Communicate in an assertive manner. This means that I have the right to express my thoughts and feelings to someone in a respectful manner, without judgement, without brutal honesty and without being inconsiderate. The person with whom I am speaking has the right to respond and express his or her thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t mean we will try to change each other’s way of thinking. We can talk and listen to each other, without the disagreement escalating to a shouting match.
2. It is important to discuss only one issue at a time. It could be difficult resolving one issue, without complicating the discussion with several issues. Pick one issue or problem area to discuss and resolve that before moving onto something else.
3. It is important to discuss, without generalizing or stereotyping. By using terminology such as “you always,” “you never,” “I told you so,” “men are so stubborn,” “women always nag,” further frustration and miscommunication will develop.
4. Presuming to know, or assuming to know what someone else is thinking (mind-reading) could lead to argument and disrespect. This type of thinking is usually incorrect, in the first place. How can we possibly know what the other person is thinking and feeling?! It is okay to ask. While we can’t force other people to talk, we can offer to listen when they are ready to communicate.
5. By advising others and jumping in to “fix it” without being asked, we are being disrespectful and controlling. This type of “know it all” thinking can create additional problems. It is possible the other person just wants to vent and work things out for himself/herself. This behavior will appear to be controlling by the person being “fixed.” Resentment can build against the “fixer,” and the “fixer” may eventually become resentful for having to be so responsible all the time!
6. Placating is often used by children and by husbands and wives! Such protestations as “I know,” “I’m sorry,” ” You’re right” are quick responses indicating that the person is trying to stop the communication and may not be genuinely sorry, or even agree with what is being said. When someone overapologizes, he or she may be placating.
7. It is okay to ask for help, to admit to making a mistake, and to admit to not having an answer. This enables us to be human. No one has to play martyr. No one has to be so perfect and no one has to be a fountain of knowledge.
In relationships, the closer we are to someone, the more we think we know the other person’s mind. My husband and I are known to finish each other’s sentences. We also answer questions that have not been verbally asked, but thought. It’s amazing, but I know I am not a mind-reader. Sometimes, he thinks he is reading my mind. Maybe, we just need to slow down, ask, and listen to what the other person is saying. We can offer “our two cents worth,” when the other person has finished speaking. That is of course, if we are asked to express an opinion, in the first place!
PHOTO: A picture of Jennifer Pennifer, taken from Leslie’s children’s book: The Misadventures of Jennifer Pennifer
For more parenting advice and to see The Misadventures of Jennifer Pennifer, please go to Leslie’s website at www.jenniferpennifer.com