Edith Schaeffer in her book “What is a family?” describes it as “unity and diversity, form and freedom, togetherness and individuality.” Today in our transient society where values are changing constantly and everyone is preoccupied with his own interests, members of the family have no time to spend in conversation, no time to listen or even eat a meal together. The family as a unit is on shaky ground. Most people believe that lack of communication within the family is responsible for this disintegration.
Every stable and healthy family is strengthened by communication that helps them know each other better and relate in positive ways. Each member whether parent, child or sibling has different perceptions of a given situation and different expectations. Lack of communication may lead to misunderstanding and avoidable stress. The goal of communication is not only to convey information but to share thoughts, feelings and emotions.
What is communication?
It is the process of conveying information to another person or persons either verbally or non-verbally. Only 50% of communication takes place through words. Non-verbal methods are through body language, facial expressions, or tone and pitch of voice. Housewives use dramatic ways of communicating their anger by burning food they are preparing or neglecting important chores that they normally perform. In some situations, Silence is also a way of communication and often speaks better than words.
How to communicate effectively within the family:
Information that needs to be conveyed to someone is called Instrumental Communication. But it becomes Affective is by giving members an opportunity to air their feelings of joy, happiness, sadness or anger.
• Communicate frequently. Whenever one finds time either during meals or at bedtime or when travelling together, speak to each other. It is good to have “family time” by turning off the TV, or phone or computer, so that there is time to talk. Children with working parents may see them only at night, and “family time” is needed to inspire confidence in parental love and concern.
• Communicate clearly and directly. Refrain from making vague statements or sarcastic remarks.
• Be an active listener to what others are saying. Show that you are attentive by a nod or a smile, or an occasional question.
• Provide an environment where members can be honest with each other and share their views and opinions. This makes for a trusting relationship. Each person young or old is a respected member of the family.
• Communication between spouses is usually different from how parents communicate with their children and vice versa.
• Be aware of non-verbal messages such as body language or facial expressions.
• Be positive. Criticism should not undermine a person’s self esteem but build up confidence. Verbally complimenting the person is a way of showing appreciation, encouragement and support.
• Demonstrate affection through a touch, word, smile or kiss.
Reasons for lack of communication:
1. If the father is an autocrat. A father should not decide how a problem is to be solved without discussing it with other members.
2. Very strict parents who enforce impractical rules without consideration for the feelings of their children.
3. Lack of expressions of love either in words, gestures or behaviour of parents.
4. Lack of respect for each other.
5. Lack of time to communicate because of preoccupation with their own careers.
Epstein et al (1993) described some ways of communication.
– Clear and Direct: The message is directed to the person for whom it is intended.
– Clear but Indirect: Addressed to no one in particular.
– Masked and Indirect: When neither the message nor the recipient is clear.
Why is communication important?
• Because every member has a chance to express his needs or wants or problems that are bothering him.
• Members become aware of their differences in an atmosphere of love and affection.
• Provides an opportunity to thrash out problems and resolve them amicably. When there is no communication, problems remain unsolved, frustration sets in and family conflict escalates. This prevents intimacy and emotional bonding. In marriage, lack of communication may lead to separation and divorce. In children, behavioural problems may surface. Later in life, antisocial behaviour or even deviant lifestyles may occur.
• The tone of voice indicates the mental state of the person. A loud and aggressive tirade is a destructive way of communicating. One must be calm, clear and precise.
• Responding positively shows empathy with the person who is speaking. No one should interrupt him or jump to conclusions before hearing him out.
• Every family has its own style and pattern of communication. There should be no comparisons with what other families are doing.
• For harmony within the family, each must appreciate the other’s strength and respect the other’s differences.
• Talk from the heart in a voice that expresses interest and concern. As Milton said,
“The melting voice through mazes running, untwists all the chains that tie the hidden soul of harmony.”