1. Be selfless – In your preoccupation with self, with your opinion, with your needs, with your desires, with your preferences you deny the first foundation of effective communication. This is a simple discipline that you can develop over time that starts with insisting on good communication before insisting on being right. Putting the needs of your family members ahead of your own is the first step.
2. Set the stage – Years after the score of a game has been forgotten your child will remember the one-to-one time you took to listen to them, encourage, comfort, or whatever else they needed. Make time for a daddy-daughter date, a spouse-to-spouse date, time for homework, time to walk together, time to drive together – you get the idea. Take the time, set the stage for communication.
3. A willingness to listen – This is more than silence or quiet, it is undivided and non-judgmental attention. Studies show that in conversations we spend most of our time thinking about how to respond or simply reacting. James in the New Testament (“They talked about communication”, you might wonder) said “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath”.
4. A willingness to speak your feelings – This is much more than “hang in there” or “you will be OK”. This is being vulnerable, to move beyond your ego, and connect at the level of feelings and emotions. This not simply rehearsing your own life lessons, though there may be a place for that, it is putting the unspoken and assumed into words and getting them out in the open “I love you”, “I am proud of you”, “I am concerned for you”.
5. Avoid judgment – If you can avoid judging, imposing your values, avoid allowing emotion to rule the conversation (emotion is important, it just shouldn’t be in the drivers seat). This allows for the person you are communicating with to come to their own conclusions, to exercise their will, without a strong reaction (voice, face, body language) on your part. There may be a place for correction or counsel but let that flow naturally and as invited. If you regularly practice the second principle this will happen more often.
6. Be trustworthy – Trust is a common value that many people espouse. Trust, however, is a two-way street and only possible between people. The core principle here is for you to be trustworthy, which you can control. This includes the ability to maintain confidences.
7. Practice patience – This is something that we all hope will be practiced on our own behalf, and it will become more likely as we extend patience first. How much of your communication is “I get sick and tired of….”, “I have told you a thousand times…”, “I just told you that yesterday”. The operative word here is practice, which implies you don’t have this down, yet, and are still learning. If you have strongly committed to being selfless in your personal communications, are willing to listen before trying to get your point across, willing to speak out loud feelings and emotions, able to avoid judgment, be trustworthy, the ability to practice patience will come more naturally.
Good luck to you as you strive to improve your family communication and relationships. There is nothing new here, but the principles are frequently passed over in favor of their opposites – with the obvious and unfortunate consequences. I have confidence that you can reinforce these principles in your life and increase harmony and peace in your family. If don't know where to begin, the first principle is a great start.
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