By Grace of Heartful Habits
Communication is vital to healthy relationships. No one is a mind reader, so we each have to be willing and able to express our needs, desires, and experiences.
However, talking with our family members can feel particularly frustrating because we are so stuck in our learned behaviors and roles that have been going on for years or even decades.
I grew up in a dysfunctional home that, for the most part, did not model or teach me effective communication skills. I was the definition of stuck in unhealthy patterns.
It has been quite a journey for me to learn some of these lessons the hard or uncomfortable way, but it is so worth it to keep growing. Communication really is the cornerstone of our interactions and thus our relationships.
To combat potentially unhelpful patterns, here are five simple-to-implement tips that will improve your family communication and build connection.
5 Family Communication Tips
1. Remove Distractions
In our modern age, there are so many electronics and distractions pulling at the edges of our attention. When you are having a conversation with someone in your family, choose to put your phone aside. Even flip it upside down so you can’t see all the social media notifications coming in. Turn off the TV. Put the computer to sleep. Slide the volume down on your music.
Make eye contact with the person with whom you are speaking. I know that if I am not actually looking at a person, I am not actually listening. Plus, it shows the other person that you are paying attention to what they have to say.
Once you have eliminated distractions in your environment and are focusing on the conversation, you will be much more likely to communicate effectively and actually reach understanding.
2. Pay Attention to Your Nonverbal Communication
It is estimated that less than 10% of what we communicate comes from our words; the remaining 90% is nonverbal. When our verbal and nonverbal expressions do not line up, this creates mixed messages. Your nonverbal communication consists of tone of voice, physical distance, facial expressions, body orientation, posture, and gestures.
Facing the speaker shows you are engaged, whereas having your arms crossed over your chest reads as closed off. Allow your emotions to show in your facial expressions and match your tone of voice. Some of these are things we tend to do subconsciously and yet they can speak volumes when we are intentional about it.
3. Be an Engaged Listener
You may hear your family members when they speak to you, but are you really listening? There are two types of listening: passive and active. Passive listening is expressed through body language (as we discussed in number two) and non-committal words such as “Oh yeah,” or “I see.”
Active listening, on the other hand, involves more back and forth in the conversation. As an active listener, you use perception checking such as, “It sounds like…” and paraphrasing, “So you think…” Both types of listening are engaged, but each is more effective in different situations.
Either way, don’t just sit waiting for your turn to talk. Actually take in what is being said so you can reach an understanding.
4. Take Ownership
Our family relationships often come with a lot of baggage because of our extensive shared history. It is important to remember, though, that no one can make us feel a certain way. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our response to it.
So while you are speaking, remember to take ownership of your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Using I-messages will allow you to express yourself without placing blame on anyone else. The typical structure of an I-message is “I feel ____ when ____. Instead, I would like _____.”
Taking the “you” out of the equation will decrease the chance of the person you are speaking with becoming defensive. Then you can work together to find a solution.
5. Ask Interesting Questions
Asking questions is a part of active listening, as mentioned in number three, but it can also be a way to stimulate conversation and create a more meaningful connection.
If it is a struggle to get a family member to open up (like the child just home from school or a sibling who always skips family gatherings), asking specific questions about their life and the things they are interested in is more likely to engage them. It also shows attentiveness and thoughtfulness.
Maybe the problem is that you already feel like you know most everything about them. For some fun new topics to talk about, check out my free Dynamic Dialogues conversation starters pack. It is full of open-ended, unique questions to create engaging connections with others.
Effective family communication takes practice and hard work.
Some of these strategies may be new to you and that will make them feel awkward the first few times you use them. Your family members may also be taken aback by a change in the way you are communicating.
Don’t worry about it! With time they will become more comfortable and the improvements you gain will reinforce your desire to continue using them. Plus, they may rub off and your family members will start using them too.
If you want to take your family communication to the next level, the Create Connection online course is here to help. It is designed to help you be heard, resolve conflict, and strengthen your family ties. You will learn the skills to communicate effectively so you can improve the health of your relationships and your own well-being in 5 weeks.
Click on over right here to learn about what specifically is covered in the course and all that it includes (spoiler: there are video lessons, PDFs, and more).
Grace Furman is a freelance writer and blogger at Heartful Habits. Heartful Habits is a place of inspiration and support for your natural health and wellness journey. She loves learning and sharing about wellness tips, natural remedies, beauty DIYs, green cleaners, and more.