The Power of Clear Communication

We live an age of communication miracles. Live TV pictures flash wonderfully clear from space probes millions of miles out in the solar system. Anyone can pick up a push button telephone and converse with someone else anywhere in the world within seconds. People talk to computers over long distance lines. Computers communicate with each other. And this all happens at lightning speed.

We do live in a time of communication miracles – everywhere, it seems, but in the family. At home communication is too often garbled, inconsistent and confused

Doors are closed, literally and figuratively in many homes. Teenagers put “No Trespassing” signs on their doors. Parents place “keep out” notices on certain subjects. Husbands and wives find themselves with nothing in common to talk about. The list could go on endlessly. The more experience I have as a physician, husband, and parent and as a parent, the more convinced I am that most problems in human relationships stem from faulty, inadequate communication. And clear, honest communication is impossible unless we consistently work for it in our family.

Before we pursue the importance of communication, let’s look at some definitions. Communication, itself, is the complex process of exchanging ideas, feelings and values between individuals and groups. The most obvious form of communication is verbal give and take – that is, the use of words. But we also communicate much of our meaning through non‑verbal processes such as tone of voice, facial expression, posture, and gestures. This non‑verbal language conveys messages just as meaningful, sometimes more powerful, as those carried by our words. Experts speak of this “body language” as a distinctive and important form of human communication. A hug can forceful affirm the message of the words, “I love you.” A frown clearly communicates disapproval or anger. Verbal and non‑verbal language both play a unique role in the process of communication: Ideas are conveyed primarily by words while feelings and attitudes are conveyed primarily by non-verbal language.

For our human relationships to prosper, our communication needs to be honest and open. Spoken language needs to be consistent with body language. Without this consistency between the two, confusion ensues. We can say to our mate, “I love you.” But if our tone of voice is harsh and cold, the message is, at best, mixed. We may say to our son, “That’s OK. I guess.” The frown, however, belies our real message: “You failed again.”

Most of the time we are unaware of our non‑verbal cues. Thinking about what we are saying, how we are saying it and how it will be interpreted by the receiver of our message sets the stage for healthier give and take in the family.

Active listening is the first step to effective communication.

Rushing home from school, Sandy called, “Mommy, mommy. Look what I did today!” She held out her spelling paper with a big red “A” draped across it.
“Later, honey. Mommy’s busy right now.” Sandy’s mom replied, her facie expressionless, her back still turned.
“Well, I thought it was good,” Sandy said glumly as she walked into the den and sat down in front of the TV.

Sandy had been excited; she wanted to communicate. But when she approached her mom, she got a busy signal. A busy signal, whether on the telephone or in person, is one on of the more unpleasant experiences of life. Sandy’s mom did not intentionally turn on the busy signal. She simply was preoccupied and not sensitive to Sandy’s needs at the moment.

Parents do not have to drop everything and come running any time their children call. We should, however, evaluate our priorities. There are times when we cannot stop what we are doing in order to give full attention to our child. For instance, Sandy’s mom may have been up to her elbows in the cookie dough at the time she came home. There would be no way she could have stopped what she was doing to give Sandy her undivided attention.

But she could have responded something like this:

“My goodness, Sandy, my hands are all messy. Bring that paper over here where I can see…My, that’s great. I’m so pleased.”

To the average first grader, this show of interest would be sufficient to affirm his or her self‑worth. Most children at this point would be happy with even a moment of attention. Further discussion could come later if necessary. “I want you to tell me all about it later.”

One of our greatest needs as human beings is to be listened to. If we know that someone cares and hears us, we can muster our resources to solve most of our own problems. We each can make our family a much happier place if we will listen more. The child who has been listened to will be more available to our own words of wisdom and guidance when it is time for discipline. Thus, one of the most essential words in family life is listen.

Written by Wayne Grant., M.D.