My wife and I attended a marriage seminar this past weekend; in fact, we presented a talk on the topic of making your family a priority. And it reminded me of the fourth habit of a family that wins.
We enjoyed participating in the sessions, and one of the things we learned—the number one thing that was talked about at this marriage seminar—was the top reason that marriages struggle—communication.
Numerous studies on marriages and divorce affirm that at the top of the list of reasons that marriages struggle is poor communication.
It ranks above financial issues, trust issues, and unmet expectations—all of which are, in fact, related to a lack of communication. One report we heard cited communication breakdown as the common factor in 65% of divorces!
That statistic really struck me.
I knew that communication had to be one of the habits we focus on in this series because the same can really be said for families.
Communication is Key for Families
Find me a family that is thriving, and I will show you a family that has figured out how to communicate. Communication is the key to all human activities.
Communication is necessary for learning, for exchanging information, for caring for one another—the first habit. Communication is essential so that family members can respect each other’s needs and wants. Without it, they can never know what others think or feel, which can make family life more difficult.
It’s easy to see why communication is so important, so why are families not better at it?
I believe one reason why families struggle is that there are so many different styles of communication.
Some family members can be highly verbal; others are non-verbal. Some are good listeners; others are not good listeners at all. Some are naturally quiet; some are loud. Some are timid; some are aggressive.
We all expect that everyone should communicate like we do. When you add this expectation into a family environment, it’s easy for communication to get off-track.
So if communication is that important to the well-being of a family, what are we doing about it? How can we make sure our own family is communicating well?
I contend that communication needs to become a habit—an intentional habit that happens inside of a family structure.
Let me share with you some tips on how to develop this habit of good communication.
Seven Practices of Families Who Communicate Effectively
- Be visible. I’ve never seen this on any ranking of communication strategies, but I’m going to put it as my number one. In order to communicate, you’ve got to be visible. You’ve got to let your kids and your spouse see you and see that you care. It’s easy to hide behind a computer, a phone, or an iPad without seeing or interacting with your family. There is no substitute for face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication, especially with kids. I once said, “Parenting is a contact sport.” And I believe it. I believe the only way you can really effectively parent is face-to-face, nose-to-nose with your kids.
- Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. You have to stop, look, and listen. Remember that effective communication is two-way. Parents that win know how to ask questions and listen with both their eyes and ears. It’s easy to be so focused on getting your message heard that you don’t tune in to what you see and hear coming back at you. Since you are in a position of authority, the stakes are even higher, and you don’t always get direct feedback. You need to read between the lines, listen and hear what’s coming back at you. Look for non-verbal cues. Sometimes a child’s body language will tell you everything you need to know. One of my favorite speakers of all time was Zig Ziglar, and one of his famous quotes was, “The key ingredient to family communication is listening. Really listening.”
- Ask good questions. Learn to ask good questions. I once heard a speaker say that most conversations are like a tennis match with opinions volleyed back and forth until someone wins the point. Well, if that’s the case, how can you break this volley so that it’s not a match that ends with a winner and a loser? You can do that by asking questions. This is the first step to understanding another person’s perspective. A friend of mine shared with me the strategy she uses to break the volley of opinions with her kids. She will not allow her kids to give their opinion until they ask three questions of the other person who spoke. This is a great practice because it is the first step to understanding other people’s perspectives. My wife and I plan to implement this ourselves in the future.
- Match your tone to the desired outcome. Our tone of voice dictates how people will interpret what we are saying, regardless of what we say. You can even practice this by restating simple questions such as, “Where are you going?” in five or six different tones: empathetic, sincere, aggressive, upset, etc. You can feel how the different tones sound. And when adults or children have unexpressed feelings that differ from what they’re actually saying, their real sentiment often comes through in their tone of voice.
- Learn to respond instead of react. Generally, we tend to blame someone else for why we are reacting, and we project the reason for our reactivity onto that person. Reaction should always lead to a reflection. Why did I react the way I did? What just happened? This reflective look inside slows the response process down and keeps the reactivity from escalating, getting aggressive, or becoming too personal. It allows us to respond in a more appropriate and objective manner. This is a hard one for me and I’m a work in progress, but it’s so important.
- Do what you say you’re going to do. This is all about trust, which is the bedrock of winning at home. Your behavior is your single greatest mode of communication. It must be in line with what you say. If your actions don’t line up with your words, you’re in trouble. It can turn into bigger trouble if you’re not corrected quickly. It’s often difficult to see it ourselves, so we have to rely on our spouse or others to hold us accountable. Don’t be afraid to empower your children to hold you accountable here. It’s incredibly powerful to let your children be a part of holding you accountable to something you want to model for them. It can sometimes be the best teaching tool in the world.
- Be intentional. Embrace these habits of communication, and don’t be afraid to have open communication about them. In our household, we accomplish this through family meetings, because they are our most effective and impactful time to communicate as a family. When we don’t have family meetings to communicate, our family suffers. So we are super-intentional about communicating and using family meetings to do it. We also try to communicate around the dinner table. We ask one question and then have a conversation so that each kid has a chance to answer that question, and everybody has to listen to the answer. It’s powerful when you’re able to do that. So be intentional with communicating as a family.
I challenge you to put all of these things in place at home. If you’ll see that how we communicate and what we communicate can really be developed as a habit, you’ll find that your family dynamics will have a positive shift.
I once heard a quote that said, “Communication is to a relationship like oxygen is to life. Without one, the other dies.” And I believe that to be true.
Question: How effectively does your family communicate? Where could you use the most help to improve your communication? You can share your thoughts by clicking here.