Reflective Parenting

Respond rather than react to your children

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Do You Understand What I Mean? A Four-Step Formula for Effective Communication

It’s difficult to communicate! Words have so many meanings. Take a look at just about any word in the dictionary and there are several meanings. Just as important, if not more so, words aren’t the only way we communicate. Our facial expressions and our body language communicate meaning.

Here is a helpful “formula” that can increase your ability to communicate clearly and meaningfully.

This is what I see:
This is what I hear:
This is the meaning I make of it:
Is my meaning the same as yours?

Let’s take a scenario. Your eight year old daughter returns home from school. To you, she looks sad. BUT, there are always at least THREE different interpretations to every situation. Instead of making a judgement right away, comment on what you SEE and HEAR. For instance: “I see your face is red and puffy. I see you wiping your eyes with the back of your hand. I see that when I try to make eye contact, you turn away from me. When I ask you how your day went, I can’t make out your words. You are talking in a soft voice, so soft that I can’t hear everything you are saying. When you speak, you are looking at the floor. The meaning I make of what I’m seeing and hearing is that something bad happened at school today. Is my meaning the same as yours?”

Let’s take another scenario. You have a fifteen year old son who is struggling in Math and Science. He comes in the door after school and you ask, “How did you do on your Math and Science assignments today?” He doesn’t answer; he rolls his eyes and slams down his backpack on a nearby bench. Instead of saying, “Answer me” or “You’re behaving disrespectfully” try the following. “I see that when I asked you about your assignments, you rolled your eyes and kept walking past me. I saw you throw your backpack on the bench and then you fell on the couch. You didn’t answer me when I asked about your assignments. The meaning I make of what I saw and didn’t hear is that you are discouraged and frustrated with your assignments in Math and Science. Is my meaning your meaning as well?”

What we see and hear is different for each individual. That is why it is necessary to make sure our meanings match as closely as possible. My meaning may not be the same as your meaning. By describing what is seen and heard as well as “guessing” at the MEANING we take from the interaction is vital. Sometimes, we THINK we know someone so well that we automatically “know” what they are thinking and feeling. BEWARE!! Using the above techniques: clarifies the message, invites the “other” to give input into the meaning (“Yes, mom, I am feeling sad, AND I’m also feeling ___________), demonstrates empathy and offers an opportunity for dialogue.

A final scenario WITH a TWIST. Imagine you are Mom. Mom comes home to her family which includes her husband and her two children, ages 9 and 11. They say, “Mom, you look tired.” Mom replies, “No, I’m not tired.”

Parents often deny their feelings because they don’t want their children to worry. Actions speak louder than words. Denying your reality sets a “bad” pattern for your children. First, children need to know you have feelings and can express them appropriately. Second, they feel connected to you and you to them when you acknowledge they “get” you.

What if you replied in the following way, “Yes, I am tired. Thanks for noticing. What were your clues that I was tired? Her children and husband make comments such as, “You have shadows under your eyes.” “You look pale.” “You are speaking slowly.” “Your head is down.” “You are biting your lower lip.” “You didn’t look at us when you came in the door.” “We heard you say that you’re not tired, but how you said that along with how you looked didn’t match.”

Try communicating by using this 4-step method and let me know how it works for you. As always, doing something different feels strange at first, but the more you persist, the more confident you become. And this method works!

Acknowledgement: Kathlyne Maki-Banman, MA, RCC