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Posts tagged ‘effective communication’

Teaching Your Kids How to Have Hard Conversations

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

If we want our kids to become stable, healthy, well-adjusted adults, we need to do a good job when they are young of teaching them to have hard conversations. It’s hard enough for spouses to do this, so our kids need our help before they leave the nest. The advent of social media and mobile devices has made communication easier but has also made effective communication more difficult, where messages are easily misunderstood, incomplete, or inflammatory.

So before they have to break off a relationship with someone, apologize for a wrong, ask for forgiveness, or share some difficult news with someone, make sure they have understood these important principles for having difficult conversations:

Communicate in person if at all possible, not digitally.

We need to avoid using social media, direct messages, emails, or texts for difficult conversations. We’ve become so reliant on electronic communication that we are tempted to use it at the worst times or in the most delicate situations. These tools are great and appropriate for quick info, encouragement, and brief connections, but should be used sparingly, if at all, for emotionally-filled or important situations. Here’s why:

  • You can’t fill in the emotional, relational gaps in 140-160 characters.
  • You cannot communicate nuance and context and emotion in written words.
  • People fill in the blanks without context. For example, what you meant to sound sincere may be easily misinterpreted as fake.
  • Digital communication can also lead to impulsive, and regretful, communication.
  • Digital communication is easier to ignore.
  • In digital communication, complex issues have to be reduced to unhelpful levels of simplicity. That’s not wise.
  • Digital communication tends to elicit reactive, not thoughtful, responses.

Bottom line: Nothing can replace face-to-face, especially when having hard or challenging conversations.

Practice the conversation with them.

This is a time when role-playing can be helpful. Take turns playing the role of your child, or the person they are talking to, and give it a go. Help them think through the strong emotions that come with the conversation, to anticipate the reactions, to process and respond to such a conversation, and to get through any awkwardness.

Think through the best time, place, and environment for the conversation.

We know from marriage that there are good times and very bad times to bring up sensitive issues. But our kids may not realize how important the setting and frame of mind can be. Help your child think through the best situation and environment that would be most appropriate to have the conversation.

Just by working through some of these basics, we can help our children be better at resolving conflict and relating to others.

Anger: Unmet Expectations

SOURCE:  Annie Chapman/Focus on the Family

As I was leaving for a four-day trip with my teen daughter and her friend, my husband, Steve, agreed to have the house in good shape when I returned, because we’d be having company on the weekend.

The trip with the girls was fun, but by the time I got home, my nerves were stretched, and I was ready for a break. As I walked into our kitchen, I struggled to process the sight and the odor. There was a stack of unwashed dishes, fish guts in the sink and the floor was sticky with some sort of marine-life slime.

Steve walked into the room. “You’re back earlier than I expected. I went fishing this morning and thought I’d have time to clean up before you got home. Then the mower needed some work, and I reckon I got sidetracked.”

Steve and I have been married for 38 years, and although I can’t say I respond correctly each time I’m angry, that particular day I chose to face the reason for my anger — my expectations had not been met.

James 4:1-2 reads, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” It’s a pretty simple explanation.

I asked Steve to give me some space — alone — instead of giving him an immediate verbal lashing, and put on latex gloves to start the restoration process. While cleaning, I did a few things that helped me deal with my anger before the razor-sharp words finished forming on my tongue.

First, I avoided talking to myself about the situation.

I have a friend who says that when she gets angry with her husband, she takes a walk and talks to herself about it. While that may work for her, it doesn’t work for me. The one time I tried the “walk and talk” idea, all I did was practice throwing verbal spears at Steve.

Then, instead of ranting to myself about Steve’s fish-gut gaffe, I talked to God about it.

James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” I’ve learned that when I humble myself before God and respectfully talk to Him about a matter, He really does give me grace. It’s a grace that prevents a small gust of anger from turning into a destructive tornado of emotion.

After I talked to God, I was better prepared to talk to my husband.

Talking humbly, yet frankly with God about my anger, seemed to put me in a more civil state of mind. As a result, I was able to respectfully and candidly talk to Steve.

By recognizing that not getting what I wanted was the true source of my anger, I created an environment in my marriage that allowed Steve to apologize without the fear of getting lambasted — and I was in a better place to accept his apology.


Annie Chapman is a musician, speaker and author of several books, including Letting Go of Anger.

Q&A: What To Do When Receiving The “Silent Treatment”

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What is the proper response to the silent treatment when it has been 10 days and no matter what, you will be blamed? Do you distance yourself or move toward reconciliation?

Answer:  First, it’s important to distinguish between the silent treatment and a time out. A timeout is a good thing and is taken when a couple is arguing in a non-productive or destructive manner and one or both parties call a timeout in order to calm down, rest, regroup, pray, or do what it takes to come back and talk constructively about the topic or problem. Ideally, a time-out should last no longer than 24 hours and the one who called the time-out initiates the reconnect with the other spouse to say when he or she would be prepared to resume the discussion.

The silent treatment is not helpful and is a passive aggressive form of punishment. One person is angry or unhappy with something you have done or not done and instead of talking it through, there is a withdrawal of communication, attention, and care as a means of punishment. I remember one woman I worked with whose spouse did not speak with her for over a year despite her pleas to discuss things.

I’m answering this question from a woman who has a husband who gives her the silent treatment, but I’m aware that women can also be guilty of giving their husband’s the silent treatment.

The person who chooses the silent treatment as a pattern of behavior operates out of a victim mindset. A victim mindset believes he  is powerless to bring about change and blames circumstances (or other people) for how he feels. He  is hurt or angry about something but refuses, to be honest, and talk about what’s bothering him. He will not do the work of expressing his feelings, stating his needs, negotiating a compromise, understanding another person’s perspective and moving towards a solution and reconciliation of the relationship or even of ending the relationship. Instead, he manipulates, punishes and attempts to control the other person through protracted silence.

Deep down, the silent partner wants two things. He wants to make you pay for upsetting him and he wants you to take full responsibility (blame) for his emotional state and rescue him out of his funk by attempting relationship repairs. Sadly, even when you attempt to do so, the silent spouse often resists your attempts and further rejects you through continued silence (more punishment). Somehow you are supposed to figure out what you did wrong, make amends, and beg this person back into relationship with you, without him having to take any responsibility for communicating or working towards a mutual solution.

But your question was, what should you do when you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment? First, you need to work on not reacting to his passive form of aggression towards you. He tempts you to step into two unhealthy roles if you are not vigilant. You will either start the rescuing process as I’ve already described, or you will get angry and lean into the persecutor role, which will shame and attack him. And be careful, you may go back and forth between the two. Either way, he gets to stay the innocent, blameless, victim and continue to see you as the bad guy–the one to blame for everything wrong in his life.

Instead of dancing that old dance again, just go about your life while he’s brooding in silence. Get out with your friends and try not to take his rejection personally. Instead, see it as a very immature response to being unhappy with something and being unable to deal with his feelings. What you can do is continue to invite him (not beg) to take responsibility for himself, to discuss what’s wrong.

So you might say something like, “I am happy to discuss what’s wrong when you are ready to talk about this, just let me know.” And then go about your life. Hopefully, this will signal to your husband that his tactic isn’t working to control or punish you. You will no longer rescue, beg or badger. In this moment, you will function as a healthy adult who invites another adult into a discussion about “what’s wrong.”

Understand this new approach doesn’t come without risk. He may sink more into a victim mentality, feel rejected and that you don’t care about him because you aren’t knocking yourself out to “fix and rescue” the relationship. Or, his aggression might switch from passive to more active and he may start to talk but it usually isn’t constructive conversation but blaming, accusing, and attacking words, blaming you for everything that’s wrong with his life and your marriage.

In that moment it’s important for you to stay in CORE strength and really see what’s happening so that you can find some compassion for him. How? Remember, he is unable to express himself in a good way, so his typical way is to shut down and be silent. When that doesn’t work, he explodes and vomits out his ugly feelings. Yes, that is hurtful, but it’s clear that he doesn’t know how to handle his emotions any better than he is doing.

If he explodes, then you can compassionately say, “I see you are very upset and hurt or angry and I’m glad you are ready to tell me what’s bothering you but the way you’re talking right now is destructive and I can’t listen to you when you are attacking me. I’m going to give you some time to calm down and figure out how to tell me what’s wrong in a more constructive way.” Then walk away. Again, you are inviting him to mature, to grow, to learn how to express himself, but in healthier ways in order to actually resolve the issue and not just allow him to attack you.

In the end, sadly, nothing may change with him, but if you don’t get drawn into the destructive pattern, a lot can change with you.

Why Compliments are Powerful


There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. ~ Mother Teresa

Psychologist John Gottman most likely agrees. His widely respected research found that in good marriages, compliments outnumber criticisms by more than five to one.

My book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love:30 Minutes A Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, tells exactly how to hold a successful marriage meeting. They are short, gently structured conversations with your spouse which fosters romance, intimacy, teamwork, and smoother resolution of issues.

Appreciation is the first agenda topic. Each partner takes an uninterrupted turn telling the other what he or she valued about the other during the past week. Doing this sets a positive tone for collaborative discussion of the remaining agenda topics: chores (tasks, business, etc.); planning good times; and problems and challenges.

Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. Besides enjoying the process of giving and receiving appreciation, you’re likely to find that complimenting your spouse results in her or him doing what you like more often.

Some people say they hold their own version of a weekly meeting with their spouse but without including the topic of appreciation. What’s wrong with that? By omitting this key relationship enhancer, they risk taking each other for granted.

Whether you are complimenting your mate during a marriage meeting or anytime, here are some ways to do it well:

  • “I appreciate you for cleaning the kitchen counter tonight.”
  • “Thank you for going to the play with me last Saturday night.”
  • “I like how handsome you look in the blue sweater you’re wearing now.”

If you say, “you did a good job cleaning the kitchen counter,” you are making a “you” statement. You can sound like you are judging rather than complimenting in a heartfelt way. It’s better to begin with “I.”

Other ways to enhance your appreciative comments:

  • Use body language and a warm voice. Smile and make eye contact.
  • Compliment positive character traits: “I appreciated your kindness in visiting my sick aunt with me.”
  • Be specific: “I appreciate how lovely you looked in your new navy dress you wore to the party Saturday night.”

Take nothing for granted. Does he read a bedtime story to the children? Did you like her attentiveness at the party when she caught your eye from across the room and smiled? Did you value his thoughtfulness in phoning to say he’d be late?

When complimented, listen silently, then say “thank you” graciously. Denying a compliment (e.g., saying “I look fat in that dress”) is like refusing a gift. If you haven’t learned to accept a compliment, practice. It’s important!

Do not make disguised “you” statements. They sound critical and create emotional distance. Don’t say, “I appreciate that you finally remembered to take out the garbage.” Do say, “I appreciate you for remembering to take out the garbage last night.”
Give and accept appreciation cordially, with a warm voice and soft eye contact. You’ll keep your love growing and your marriage thriving.

Not everyone is comfortable receiving appreciation. Here are some reasons:

  • People who lack self-esteem may not trust that the compliments are true.
  • Some cultures view accepting a compliment as boasting.
  • People who were raised with too much criticism or where self-disclosure was risky tend to find it hard to make I-statements. I-statements require a willingness to be vulnerable.

These challenges can be overcome with self-awareness and practice.

Noticing fine traits and behaviors in your partner produces a ripple effect. You will start noticing more often what you like about your children, other family members, friends, and co-workers.

Expressing appreciation adds to your reservoir of optimism and good feelings. Life’s stresses and tensions can reduce the supply. You’ll keep the warm feelings flowing by noticing what’s going well and communicating appreciation daily.


Managing Emotions in the Midst of Disagreement

SOURCE:  Tim Muehlhoff/Family Life

The goal of a balanced communicator is to properly manage and express both thoughts and emotions.

Many of us believe that the worst thing we can do during a disagreement is to become emotional. Emotions are unpredictable, we think, and they’ll undermine our ability to discuss an issue objectively and dispassionately; therefore we need to suppress our emotions or ignore them while seeking to resolve a disagreement.

This view has many flaws. First it’s simply not possible.

The goal of a balanced communicator is to properly manage and express both thoughts and emotions.

When the apostle Paul encourages Christians at Ephesus to pursue Christ, he doesn’t pray merely that their intellect or rationale would be enlightened by God. Rather, he prays that the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18). In Hebrew the word “heart” means all of an individual—intellect, emotions, body, and will. God wants all of our selves to be engaged in our pursuit of Him.

The same is true when we approach conflict.

To deny or push aside our emotions is to enter into a conversation only partially. The surest way to inflame another person’s emotion is to belittle or ignore it. Expressing and acknowledging emotions correctly is foundational to healthy conversation.

Second, the problem with suppressing our emotions during a charged conversation is that in the process we may also suppress our motivation to resolve the conflict.

In his massive 500-page treatise On Religious Affections, the great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards writes that the nature of human beings is to be inactive unless somehow motivated by a powerful feeling or affection. Feelings of hatred, love, passion, hopefulness, hopelessness and anger serve as a spring of action that propel us forward to duty and others. If we mistakenly suppress our emotions, we may also short-circuit the very mechanism that launches us toward resolution. Often within difficult conversations our emotions—desire to reconcile, address an injustice, resolve conflict, share Christ’s love—provide the spring of action that keeps us in the conversation.

Third, emotions are a powerful indicator that individuals still care about each other and the relationship.

I often tell my students that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. I don’t hate individuals I’m indifferent to or who do not matter to me. Why waste the emotional effort? My anger is more likely to arise in response to people who mean something to me—a boss, spouse, co-worker, child, or other close individual.

Last, the reason we don’t suppress or deny our emotions is that God didn’t suppress His while engaging with us. In the Scriptures we encounter a God who is unchanging, powerful, holy, and emotional.

Preparing to engage

When the time comes to engage another person in a difficult conversation, what are the steps we can take to identify and express emotions? The following are some suggestions.

Take a read of your current emotional state. We’re all susceptible to having our emotions get the better of us. Foundational to expressing emotions effectively is recognizing the feelings we’re experiencing before the conversation even starts. I say “feelings” because in most situations we experience multiple emotions.

The first step in assessing your emotional state is to give words to your feelings. The difficulty is that many of us have poor emotional vocabularies. If we are angry, we simply say, “I’m mad!”

When I counsel couples I ask them to provide at least three distinct descriptors for a single emotion. If a person tells me he or she is discouraged about the relationship, I ask him or her to provide additional words. There is a significant difference between feeling disheartened and feeling disappointed. A person can feel good about the overall relationship but still feel disappointed about one particular aspect. Conversely, a person who is disheartened may view the entire relationship as hopeless. The key is to reflect on and clarify your emotional state.

Use fractionation. This odd-sounding technique is a staple for experts at the Harvard Negotiation Project and is considered the most effective way of reducing the intensity of emotion during conflict. Fractionation is the process of breaking conflict down into smaller, more manageable portions. The idea is that the smaller the conflict, the less severe the emotion. For example, statements like, “I feel unappreciated in this relationship!” or “Our communication climate is lousy” are too broad and emotionally charged. How can these feelings be broken down into a more manageable size without trivializing them?

The key is to use the simple x-y-z formula: when you do x, in situation y, I feel z. For example, a coworker feels that you are not respecting his religion and has grown increasingly defensive. Not respecting another person’s faith tradition is a serious issue, but it is too broad to negotiate. It may be helpful to ask, “What causes you to feel disrespected?” Your coworker responds, “When you ask me about my religion, you tend to only point out what’s wrong with it. You never try to find areas of agreement. So, what’s the point of even asking me about my faith?” Putting his concerns into the x-y-z formula would read like this: When you only find faults (x) when I am describing my faith (y) it makes me feel belittled and defensive (z). While this method doesn’t suggest a resolution, it helps both parties understand the source of the emotion.

After listening to your coworker’s complaint, you might summarize the difficulty as follows: “What seems to be causing our emotions to escalate is that you view my challenges to your faith as being disrespectful, rather than how I intend them, as healthy debate.” This formula can move individuals away from emotions to what scholars call this meta-communication—communication about our communication. For example, you could ask, “Would it be helpful if I didn’t interrupt while you’re describing aspects of your faith?” “Might it be more productive to start with areas of agreement rather than areas of disagreement?” “How can we structure our conversation so it comes across as healthy debate and not an attack that evokes strong emotions?”

The difference is the Holy Spirit

While these suggestions focused on managing emotions are valuable, they contain an inherent flaw. In order to clarify and manage emotions we need to be disciplined and aware of our fluctuating emotional state. Success is determined by our emotional intelligence and skill.

The apostle Paul takes a fundamentally different approach. When calling Christians in the church at Ephesus to put away powerful emotions such as rage, bitterness, and anger and to form healthy relationships, he didn’t tell them to work harder. Rather, he encouraged them to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). What sets apart Christian communicators is their reliance on a spiritual power outside of them.


Taken from I Beg to Differ by Tim Muehlhoff. Copyright © 2014 by Tim Muehlhoff. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. 


Effective Communication: I-Messages or You-Messages

SOURCE:  Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee/Living Free

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”

Ephesians 4:29 NLT

Expressing our feelings using I-messages is a key to effective communication. You-messages put the other person on the defensive, but I-messages have a much greater chance of getting through.

I-messages tell what you feel or how the other person’s behavior is making you feel. I-messages …

  • Deal with facts, rather than evaluation
  • Help communicate honesty and openness
  • Are much less likely to harm the relationship
  • Do not attack the self-esteem of the other person

Imagine this situation: A teenager has developed a habit of breaking curfew. He/she has just done it again.

You-messages a parent might use: “You are so irresponsible.” “You are disobedient.” I-messages: “I worry about you when you’re out so late.” “I get so tired because I can’t sleep when you are late.” “I care about you and feel it is my responsibility as your parent …”

Which messages are more likely to be heard? Which would add to a wall of defensiveness?

These are important skills to practice in the big and small communications of our lives, but especially when we want to express those deepest feelings that have been hiding behind our “Sunday smiles.”

Father, help me be wise and honest in communicating my feelings. May everything I say be good and helpful. In Jesus’ name …

These thoughts were drawn from …

Concerned Persons: Because We Need Each Other by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min. 

How To Get A Win-Win Solution In Conflict

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Some conflicts are solvable and temporary and others may be more chronic, but when possible, look for a solution that both parties can live with and feel good about.

For those who are married, sometimes we misunderstand biblical headship and submission to mean that the husband always gets his way in every conflict or disagreement. God never describes headship in that way. In fact, Jesus sternly cautions those in authority over others not to misuse their positions for selfish purposes (Mark 10:42-43). Godly headship always leads to sacrificial servant-hood rather than demanding one’s own way.

The following steps make resolving conflict in a mutually agreeable way more likely.

1.  Clearly define the problem:

To work together toward a mutually agreeable solution, whether it is a marital conflict or a disagreement among family members or friends, you must define the problem you’re working to solve. For example, Dana felt angry because Ted spent money without telling her, but why was that a problem? Was it because she didn’t think that was fair or was it because she didn’t like what he bought? Dana needed to think about why Ted’s spending was a problem for her. As she looked at the situation more closely, she saw that the problem was what happened to her budget when Ted overspent. As Dana defined her problem and communicated directly how she felt and what she wanted, she may have said, “Ted, I don’t like it when you spend money without telling me first. It throws our budget off and then I’m scrambling to find money to pay the bills. I’d like you to talk with me before you make a purchase over fifty dollars.”

2.  Respectfully ask for what you want/need to solve the problem: 

Dana defined the problem and asked Ted directly for the changes she wanted him to make. She told him how she felt without assaulting his character with ugly words like, “You’re so irresponsible. How could you be so selfish?”

3.  Listen carefully:

As Dana listened, Ted told her he felt like a child being given an allowance. He worked hard and didn’t like Dana’s tight control over what he could or could not spend.

4.  Aim for a Win/Win: 

When you purposefully look for a solution that is good for both people rather than trying to win the argument, you are much more likely to end up with a win/win solution. To accomplish this, Dana needed to show respect and consideration for Ted’s feelings and a willingness to work with him to find a mutually acceptable solution to her problem of not having sufficient money to pay bills as well as his problem of feeling like a child with a controlling mom. Ted also needed to be respectful of Dana’s desire to be a good steward of their finances and not be short of funds to pay the bills. They must negotiate and compromise to come up with solutions that meet both of their needs. Sometimes this feels like very hard work. It is, and this work is what builds better and closer relationships.

This is the kind of work that allows my husband and me to go on vacation even though our preferences are very different. We talk about how we will spend our time together, how much money we want to spend, and what’s important, being considerate of each other’s desires, so that at the end of the vacation we’ve both had a good time.

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