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This guide provides verbal and nonverbal techniques that can help improve
by Sandra J. Bailey, Ph.D., CFLE, Family and Human Development Specialist
Good FaMily relations are built on stronG
communication. It creates and keeps strong family ties;
this is true for how we talk with any family member.
Communication is how we send and receive messages
in ways that create understanding. It is how and what we
say or don't say. Most communication is nonverbal. Our
body language, expression on our face, and tone of voice
give others more information than what is said.
Nonverbal communication has many functions.
· First, it gives us information about the sender's mood
or intent of the message.
· Next, it helps to control the conversation. It tells us
when the speaker is done talking. This can also help
us know how long the conversation should be. When
trying to speak to a person who appears rushed, we
are likely to cut our conversation short.
· Finally, nonverbal communication is dictated by
the relationship we share with the other person. For
example, how we speak to our boss is different from
how we talk to our spouse.
We express nonverbal communication in several ways.
Our facial expression is the way we tell others about our
emotions and mood. Smiles and frowns have the same
meaning no matter what culture one is from.
Eye contact is a nonverbal way to show a person
whether or not you are paying attention. Maintaining eye
contact lets the speaker know you are listening. Gazing
past a person tells him that you are not interested.
Our posture also sends nonverbal messages. Sitting
at the same level with a person is less threatening than
standing over them. This is also true if you are at the
same eye level. Avoid crossing your arms; a speaker with
crossed arms conveys the message of being closed-off,
angry or disinterested.
Making Time for Conversation
Families today are busy. School, children's activities,
and parents' work schedules make it hard to find time
to spend together. According to Dr. William Doherty,
families today spend less time eating meals together. They
have fewer family talks. Children have less free time.
Family members have more scheduled time and less time
to talk and enjoy one other, so it is important for families
to make time to talk.
One place many families find to talk is in the car.
Today's families spend a good deal of time in the car going
from one activity to another. Parents might make time to
talk to children at bedtime. Another idea is to have "dates"
with a family member to spend one-on-one time. Having
a family meal together is a good way to find time to talk.
Learning Skills for Meaningful Conversation
Busy parents sometimes think they are listening to
their children, but may not really hear what they are
saying. Children often won't talk when asked too many
questions. When your child comes home from school, try
using a conversation starter with a question that can't be
answered by "yes" or "no." For example, "What was the
best part of school today?" Sometimes saying nothing can
start a conversation. One mother said the best way to get
her teenage son to start talking was by simply being in
the house but not saying anything. After a time he would
start sharing his thoughts.
When talking with your spouse about a sensitive topic
try using "I" statements. "I really feel unappreciated when
I find dirty socks in the living room. I wish socks would
be put in the dirty clothes hamper." You are telling your
spouse how you feel, why you feel that way, and what you
would like to see done differently. This method is much
less threatening than, "You always leave your socks in the