Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Keys to Better Holiday Communication

by Joyce Geddie, M.A., R.N., LAPC

The holidays can be a wonderful, yet very stressful time of the year. Healthy communication is an important aspect of our relationships any time of the year, but this time of year all too often we carry additional expectations, recall past hurts and disappointments, and engage in conflict  with those we most long to connect with.

The main reasons people have difficulty expressing themselves is because of the fear of being discounted or ignored, rejected, embarrassed, or people fear being too vulnerable with the other person (Balswick & Balswick, 2007). One of the hallmarks of high-functioning families is that they communicate to each other in a way that honestly expresses their feelings and concerns in a clear, respectful manner and they in turn empathetically listen, consider and respond appropriately. Of course, that is easier said than done.

The good news is that if you’d like to see improvements in the way your family communicates, change can begin with you. We can all become better communicators if we begin to increase our awareness, slow down our responses and clarify within ourselves what needs and desires we have before we attempt to communicate them. Taking time to pause and to think how we can best word our concerns without inflicting angry or painful words on others is always helpful. Communication must be void of destructive criticisms, resentments, and threats in order to promote intimacy. If intense negative thoughts and emotions are brewing just under the surface, it can be very difficult to be open to understanding and respectfully listening to what a family member is saying. It is often very helpful to communicate in a clear, non-demanding fashion to family members and is unrealistic to expect them to read our minds and know what we need from them.

  We are all in a constant state of communicating with others, whether it is verbally, nonverbally, or both. It can be a valuable exercise to be aware of our own reactions to others’ nonverbal communication and even to consider clarifying our interpretations with them rather than making incorrect assumptions about the message we think they are sending.

Additionally, being aware of our own nonverbal communication helps us to investigate our current feelings and consider any unresolved emotions our bodies may be physically reacting to. If we learn to consistently communicate clearly with honor and respect, it typically produces less of a defensive reaction in others, and they are more inclined to try to understand and hear what is being said.

As we become more self-aware of our own motives, our nonverbal communication, any unresolved emotions, or attempts to control others responses, we can begin to make positive changes that produce a powerful impetus towards better family communication. Successfully communicating is not an easy task and be aware you won’t get it right every time you try, but even little steps can provide you with more peace this stressful holiday season.

 If you need more assistance in learning effective communication, we have a wonderful group of counselors at Fountain Gate who are more than happy to assist you with your goals. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Balswick, J. O., & Balswick, J. K. (2007). The family: A Christian perspective on the contemporary home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.