Basic Family Skills: Communication and Listening
Family relationships are rooted in interactions. Family relationships can include anyone that you consider to be your family: the traditional "nuclear" family of husband, wife, and children; single parents; multiple generations (i.e. grandparents); or close friends who have become “family.” This section focuses on important speaking and listening skills as necessary components for peak relationship performance. As Rudyard Kipling said, "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." Following are quick resources to help you develop or maintain these skills.
People communicate in many different ways. Sometimes two people can say the same thing but mean two different things. Therefore, clearly articulating what you want to communicate is key. Often communication, particularly disagreements, between two people can escalate to conflict. The Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) describes common conflicts between couples and identifies strategies (like planning time to discuss heated issues), including what to do and NOT DO (like being threatening or sarcastic) when communicating with loved ones.
Roadblocks to Communication. Sometimes when communicating, roadblocks appear that get in the way of really hearing what your family member is saying or that hinder your ability to communicate what you are thinking and feeling. Click here to access this link to Mentor.org that describes the five common roadblocks to communication (ordering, moralizing/preaching, teaching, judging, and distancing).
Deployment Communication. Communication between two people usually involves not just the words that are used but also the listener's interpretation of the speaker’s words, the body language of the speaker and listener, and the tone of voice. These factors change depending on the medium being used (i.e., face-to-face, phone, e-mail, video chat, letters). Families who have a member deployed or away from the other(s) for periods of time require an additional skill set to enhance these relationships. Click on the links below for advice on "Maintaining a Strong Relationship Through Deployments and Separations":
Speaking is only one half of communicating; listening is the essential other half. Charles Caleb Colton said, "Men [and women] are born with two eyes, but only one tongue, in order that they should see twice as much as they say." The same goes for ears.
How to be a better listener. DCoE has a webpage that describes how to be a better listener. It describes how to use “I statements” to accurately convey what you are saying and start the conversation off well, how to respond, and how to have more productive and positive conversations.
Teaching your children listening skills through your own behavior. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has put together a section of their “Family Guide: Keeping Youth Mentally Healthy and Drug Free” website that describes how to be a better listener and that particularly focuses on interacting with your children. Additionally, the University of Delaware has a brochure on "Communication Skills for You and Your Family."