Do you ever hurt those you love, such as your spouse or kids?
If you are like the rest of us, the answer is likely “yes.” When we hurt those close to us, it is often because we don’t communicate effectively. In fact, if we could simply correct the communication mistakes we make, our family relationships could greatly improve.
It does not sound hard to control our tongue, so why wasn’t I able to do it? For years, I let criticism and control creep into how I spoke with my wife. I wasn’t aware this was going on, much less the damage it was causing to her. Twenty years into our marriage, her work with the Twelve Steps uncovered the pain I had contributed to over the years. I was flabbergasted and remorseful but could not take back the hurt she had suffered. I have humbly admitted those mistakes and want to make positive changes in how I speak to her. That may not seem hard to do for some, but for me it is a habit I must work on every day.
Good communication is critical in close family relationships. Most of us make mistakes and need to make positive changes. Here are five ways to communicate more effectively:
1. Accept responsibility: Make sure the other person hears what you are really trying to say. Take personal responsibility for effective and positive conversations.
2. Watch your tone: More is conveyed through your tone of voice and body language than you may believe, so concentrate on the non-verbal ways you communicate.
3. Control the tongue: The area where many of us make the most mistakes with our family is when we do not control our tongue when we should. Pause and ask if the next thing you are about to say will build the other person up; if not, don’t say it.
4. Communicate without words: Sometimes, feelings are best conveyed without any words at all. We can let our family members know how we feel through touch, by spending time together and with acts of service.
5. If all else fails, ask: It is okay, often desirable, to simply ask for clarification or to confirm understanding, and doing so shows you care about effective communication.
You can take communication to an even higher level if you:
6. Use the Golden Rule: Speak to other people as you would like them to speak to you.
7. Be real: Be open, honest, and transparent. When the other person sees genuineness and sincerity, they want to hear what you are saying and will respond more favorably.
8. Earn trust: Trust is critical in close relationships. It is built one trustworthy action at a time, by being honest and doing what you say you will do.
9. Give other people a break: A great deal of anguish can be avoided by not taking every interaction so seriously. People make mistakes; when they do, most of the time you should give them the benefit of the doubt and simply move on.
10. Give yourself a break: You don’t help anyone, most of all yourself, by bottling your emotions inside you. When you feel hurt by something, mention it to the other person.
Communicating well may seem easy, but most of us make plenty of mistakes. It doesn’t have to be that way, and you can improve if you try, simply by counting to ten.
Do you communicate well with your family? Are you sure?
Action: This article is an edited excerpt from STEPS: A Daily Journey to a Better Life. Get more insight on how to handle our most important relationships from the rest of the chapter on “Navigating Marriage and Parenting.”