7 Practical Yet Simple Steps to Improved Family Communication

Written by Rosa Chillis

| 4 minutes
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“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstandings, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” —Albert Schweitzer

Meet Barbara:

“Rant alert! As if caring for your loved ones through terminal illness or behavior issues isn’t bad enough, what gets me is when your siblings can’t find any compassion or consideration.

“My mum moved into residential care two weeks ago, and she loves it. Why? Because she has company and gets good care. I fully supported her decision.

“But my brothers? Oh no! One stopped talking to me. The other doesn’t understand why I haven’t found a job and moved out of the family home, and he wants me to pay for my mum’s residential care.

“Times like these are when I’m convinced that I’m adopted. I’m so angry! I have constantly put my dreams on hold, and I now finally get a chance to rebuild my business with some great products and services but with no support from my family.”

Communication within Barbara’s family needs mending.

Interestingly, during the same week Barbara posted in her online support group, another caregiver posted these words: “I HATE my siblings. That is all.”

This member received 29 responses, with many sharing her sentiments and saying, “Me too!”

What’s going on? Why is there so much hatred among some family members?

Where a good relationship exists, the caregiver, patient, and family laugh together even when they make mistakes. Conversely, situations sometimes erupt and reveal communication gaps when there is friction. Instead of working together, some siblings only have feelings of bitterness, anger, and resentment toward each other.

What You Can Do About Family Conflict

One family therapist explains an important reason why brothers and sisters are so often in conflict:

“Each family has a certain number of resources, some emotional and some material. When siblings fight, they usually compete for these resources, including everything from paternal love to money and clothes.”

In Barbara’s situation, some of the conflicts and breakdowns in communication seem to be about money. One of her brothers believed that she should pay for their mother’s residential care. Other issues in Barbara’s family involve feelings of resentment—at least from Barbara’s perspective. One brother wants Barbara to move out of the family home and be on her own—also about money.

The only way Barbara and her brothers can get to the core of their disputes is to talk openly. Such a meeting involves interpersonal communication skills, where the siblings can exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal and nonverbal communication, ideally in person.

But I believe the most critical communication skill is effective and active listening, which builds trust. Through it, you can make and bring opposing ideas closer together. Conflicts or confrontations often occur due to family stress and other negative emotions, such as worry, anger, grief, guilt, etc. These negative emotions not only affect your health, but family dynamics as well.

Barbara might have been experiencing inner emotional turmoil, which caused her to express herself so vehemently in her online post.

In the field of psychotherapy, there exist four methods of conflict resolution. They include:

1. Competition. This method refers to a power struggle involving who gets the upper hand. The result is, “I win, and you lose.”

2. Accommodation. You concede to resolve issues with this style. The result is, “I lose, and you win.”

3. Compromise. Many believe this is the best way to resolve conflict, resulting in “I lose, and you lose.”

4. Cooperation. Referred to as a “win-win” situation, both parties cooperate for the best outcome in their favor.

Conflict Can Happen in Any Relationship

Regardless of the type of relationship, there are four common causes of severe disagreements or disputes:

1. Lack of shared understanding

2. Poor communication skills

3. Unclear or unfair expectations

4. Power plays and manipulations

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Use These Seven Simple Steps to Improve Your Family Communication

Step 1: Prepare to listen with understanding.

In Barbara’s case, she should ask to meet with her brothers face-to-face, saying calmly, “Let’s talk.”

Step 2: Engage in active listening.

Barbara must engage in active listening by nodding or making statements such as, “I see,” or “I get it,” asking sincere questions, and expressing herself with mildness and respect for better results.

Step 3. State your position tactfully.

In this step, you should avoid blame, shame, or guilt to present your case. Use statements that start with “I.”

Step 4. Give the benefit of the doubt.

Expect the best results. Barbara could assume that her brothers would be sympathetic to her point of view.

Step 5. Be hard on the problem.

Focus on the issue at hand but do not attack the people. Avoid generalizing by using statements such as, “You always do this” or “You never do that.”

Step 6. Resist casting blame.

The only time casting blame is adequate is when you’re blaming yourself, which will denote humility. Make statements such as, “I messed up; I apologize.”

Step 7. Negotiate with confidence.

You are not afraid to confront the issues. Nearly everything is negotiable.

Aim for a win-win solution. It may not be easy, but it is well worth the effort.

In addition to the above seven steps, showing empathy can help, as some refer to this quality as “The Bedrock of Conversation.” How so?

According to Dr. Bernard Guerney of Pennsylvania State University: “Empathy is the capacity to appreciate the other person’s feelings and point of view—whether you agree with him. Empathy is the foundation upon which we build everything else.”

Empathy allows you to put yourself mentally in the other person’s shoes so that you can feel and think as they do. Doing so will result in understanding, appreciation, and respect, even if you disagree with their point of view.

Empathy serves to foster better communication people want and need.

To Summarize:

Communication is the exchange of thoughts and feelings. Miscommunication is a failure to communicate adequately. As with all conflict, family conflict occurs due to a lack of shared understanding, poor communication skills, unclear or unfair expectations, and power plays and manipulations.

Show empathy.

As a caregiver, I implore you to follow the seven practical yet simple steps in this article and watch communication within your family improve. With the stress, overwhelm, and struggles you are undoubtedly experiencing in caring for your loved one, you (all of us) need family!

We must try to get along.

Begin now and make your caregiving days less stressful and more loving, joyful, and peaceful through effective communication with family.

Rosa Chillis is the author of “A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions.” She was a 24/7 caregiver to her dear husband for three years, including hospice at home. She holds a Master of Education degree and is a Certified Caregiving Consultant. As an experienced caregiving wife, she has walked in your shoes. www.goldenpenllc.com 

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