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7 Simple Steps to Improve Family Communication

Written by Rosa Chillis
April 13, 2022
7 Simple Steps to Improve Family Communication
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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:

Communication within Barbara’s family needs mending.

“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.”

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?

When 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

Conflict takes more than one person.

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 listening, you can make and bring opposing ideas closer together.

Caregiving conflicts or confrontations often occur due to family stress and other negative emotions, such as worry, anger, grief, guilt, etc. These negative emotions affect your health and family dynamics.

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

In the field of psychotherapy, there are four methods of conflict resolution. They include the concepts of winning or losing:

  • Competition. This method refers to a power struggle involving who gets the upper hand. The result is, “I win, and you lose.”
  • Accommodation. You concede to resolve issues with this style. The result is, “I lose, and you win.”
  • Compromise. Many believe this is the best way to resolve conflict, resulting in “I lose, and you lose.”
  • Cooperation. Referred to as a “win-win” situation, both parties cooperate for the best outcome in their favor.

Conflict Happens in Any Relationship

Regardless of the type of relationship, there are five 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
  5. Underlying dynamics or tensions

Use These Seven 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. Pay attention and demonstrate that you are present and listening to them by nodding or making statements such as, “I see,” or “I get it,” and follow on with sincere questions.

She can express herself with mildness and respect for better results when she is listening with intent to understand rather than to respond.

Step 3. State your position tactfully

Avoid blame, shame, or guilt to present your case or situation. 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 tough on the problem

Not the people.

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

Blame others or situations less. The point is a solution and agreement; not being considered 'right'.

The only time casting blame is adequate is when you blame yourself, which is 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.

Empathy is Vital to Communication

In addition to the above seven steps, being empathetic and showing that empathy can help. It is so pivotal that some refer to this quality as “The Bedrock of Conversation” How so?

According to Dr. Bernard Guerney of Pennsylvania State University and creator of Filial Family Therapy:

“Empathy is the capacity to appreciate the other person’s feelings and point of view—whether you agree with them or not. 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.

From Brene' Brown author of Altas of The Heart and the TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world,on empathy:

“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”

Empathy fosters better communication that people want and need.

To Summarize:

Communication is the exchange of thoughts and feelings. It is what we see, project and take in. 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 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. As an experienced caregiving wife, she has walked in your shoes. More of her writing is here. www.goldenpenllc.com

About the author: Rosa Chillis has a Master of Education degree and is a Certified Caregiving Consultant. As an experienced caregiving wife, she has walked in your shoes. She is the author of author of the highly rated book. “A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions.”

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