Many of the basic techniques for effective communication may be successfully applied in the home. Two of the key skills are listening and non-verbal communication. Teaching yourself and each of your family members how to build their listening and non-verbal communication skills is important for creating a strong foundation for successful communication in the family.
Listening can be active or passive. Passive listening happens when someone is listening but is not reacting or engaging in what is heard. Examples of passive listening – a one-way form of communication – include listening to music and watching television. Active listening, on the other hand, is a two-way form of communication where the active listener engages with the speaker by hearing the words, factoring in the tone of the delivery, and acknowledging the speaker with verbal and non-verbal cues to confirm or clarify meaning.
Teaching yourself and your family how to be strong active listeners is possible no matter what their ages. For young family members, play listening games to teach them how to be active listeners. Tell a short story or sing a song and then tell it or sing it a second time with a few changes in it. Have your child signal or say each time she or he hears a difference. For older children, have them listen with their eyes closed so they pay attention to the tone in your voice as well. Change your tone as well as the words and see if they can pick up all of the differences. The key to active listening is to focus on the speaker. Hear what is being said by factoring in the words, the tone and the emotion coming from the speaker. Repeat back in your own words what you heard to allow the speaker to confirm you heard him or her correctly. Ask questions to get greater clarity and gain understanding. And, use non-verbal cues like nodding your head and expressing emotion on your face.
Non-verbal communication is a second critical component of strong communication skills in families and relationships. Non-verbal includes all of the signals like posture, facial expression, and body position. Learn to be more aware of your own non-verbal signals to ensure they align with the words and the intent you want to convey. Young children can be taught non-verbal cues through games. Have your child make faces that correspond to different emotions so they learn how to express themselves. You can share your faces with them as well. Have them do the same in front of a mirror so they see what they look like. Similar games can be played to learn about posture and body positions for various emotions and feelings. People-watching is another good way to learn about and discuss non-verbal communication for older children and even yourself and your partner. Understanding how to read and use non-verbal communication is a strong skill for each family member whether at home work or play.
An under appreciated part of effective communication is the importance of creating a safe and suitable environment for a conversation. This is particularly important in family communication since families today have so much activity going on and sometimes there is little or no time for conversation with the entire family or even private time between a parent and child. Teach your children and yourself how to create a safe quiet space for conversation. Turn off electronics and remove other distractions. Stop and give your full attention to the family member wanting to talk. Some families and relationships use a phrase that signals a need for real conversation. It might be something like ‘I have a serious question’ or ‘I need some real talking time’. It doesn’t matter what the phrase is as long as everyone in the family understands that it is a request by the speaker to have a conversation where he or she is truly heard and the request needs to be respected and acted upon. Some families set aside specific time each day or every couple of days to give each child some focused communication. It’s also valuable to set aside time for the adults and also for the family as a whole to communicate.
Investing in learning how to be effective communicators will help create a solid foundation for your family and all the relationships within it. For additional ideas or assistance in improving communication in your family or with your partner, contact the Centre for Human Potential and book time with a qualified psychologist.