Most mental health counselors receive some kind of training in how to communicate in a way that errrr… doesn’t sound off-putting, arrogant, one-sided, and ridiculous. And lo and behold, it is not just the people who enter therapy that don’t appreciate “off-putting, arrogant, one-sided, and ridiculous”– Such communication is pretty much a universal no-no.
Here, I present to you, straight out of a “therapist communication manual,” some ways to talk that won’t make your child slam the door, your teenager roll her eyes, or your husband turn the TV volume up:
1) Don’t preach, over-talk, go on and on, or monopolize the conversation. Your kid/spouse lost you after the introductory sentence to your monologue.
2) Don’t keep attempting to convince. People are turned-off by others who try to “convince” them. It is dishonoring of their perspective.
3) To go along with #2, present yourself as “on the same team.” Collaborate instead of lecture. Investigate the reasons behind the other person’s perspective, and brainstorm the pros and cons of certain ways of behaving. Insert cliché example: If you husband wants to trade in the paid-off car for a Challenger, make sure he is on-board with the goal of financial security for the family. Then approach the issue with a collaborative conversation about whether or not the Challenger is affordable. What would have to be cut out of the budget to get such a car? Is it even possible? You can use the same method with talking to a teenager about sex. Establish that you are both on the same page with wanting her to be physically healthy, emotionally stable, and not-pregnant. Then go from there with your “collaborative” conversation.
4) Maintain openness in your presence. Put down the phone (or the pen), make eye contact, and wait to hear everything the person has to say before speaking.
5) Maintain a mindset of openness. “Openly” consider the other persons’ perspective before speaking. Openness to the other person means pausing to validate the other person’s perspective (without defensiveness or just waiting to add your two cents).
6) Meet the other person where he’s at before you lead him toward a change. If your teenager keeps “forgetting” to do his homework, and he tells you that homework is “stupid,” dare to explore what he means by “stupid.” Dare to consider his perspective if he follows up with the fact that he feels homework is pointless or even too difficult. Verbally acknowledge that it makes sense that a kid his age would find the whole thing pointless and that if it was hard, it might very easily be pushed to the back burner. ONLY THEN provide your explanation for why homework is important (and make sure he agrees with the overall goal of someday graduating high school and becoming self-sufficient– see #3). Then when you are discussing ways to address the fact that it is difficult (tutor, etc?), it is a collaboration and not a lecture. My clinical supervisor always calls this “matching and leading.” “Matching and leading” is not just for the therapy office; it’s for every day life.
7) Be self-aware. Apologize when you realize you are wrong. Did you flip out on your husband about the fact that he forgot to do the dishes? If you found yourself to be a little too harsh, you could communicate the fact that his neglecting the dishes makes you feel overwhelmed and like he doesn’t care (self awareness in action.) …(AND apologize for calling him “useless” and chucking his remote control at the TV screen.)
8) THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP: Actions speak louder than words. Kids, husbands, wives, and teens actually respect and listen-to others when they are practicing what they preach. Have you ever seen a teenager smile and say, “okay, mom” when a married-and-divorced-six-times parent explains the value of commitment?