Being a mother of two children – one who is 6 years old and one who is 3 years old – means that I spend a lot of my time helping to calm nerves and sort out disputes. It gets tiring (particularly when I’ve only been awake for half an hour and had to ‘referee’ a couple of arguments already!) yet I know that this is normal. Squabbles between siblings is part and parcel of growing up and it’s my role to help ease the situation and find positive outcomes for all.
Arguments, frayed nerves and short tempers (and sometimes long, cold silences) are some very obvious ‘symptoms’ of unhealthy (or poor) communication. And of course things such as stress, tiredness and illness only serve to make a person’s communication skills even worse. As part of my training to become a breastfeeding counsellor I learnt a lot about the importance of clear communication – the value of listening, really listening, and how to respond to a person who is asking you for help. The excellent book People Skills (by Robert Bolton) taught me a lot about the many, every day ‘roadblocks’ to clear communication which many, many humans can’t help but use. They are things such as:
Logic (avoiding the other’s concerns)
Person 1: “I’m so upset about getting my writing rejected.”
Person 2: “Don’t be upset – it happens to all writers.”
Advice (sending solutions)
Person 1: “I got locked out and now I’m stuck outside my own home!”
Person 2: “What you need to do is keep a spare set of keys on you all the time.”
Person 1: “I’m soooo tired.”
Person 2: “Well, if you hadn’t stayed up late, writing your blog, you wouldn’t be feeling awful today.”
Right now I kind of want to punch person 2, although person 2 may well be a loved one who, at heart, only wants the best for me.
There are so many ways to easily improve communication – listening being the main one – for what, after all, is Person 1 really trying to say in all these scenarios? And what would they appreciate Person 2 saying to them? (I’ll leave you to figure out the interesting back stories…!).
Of course we can’t instantly become great communicators, or know exactly the right thing to say at exactly the right moment. But if we keep listening and keep asking ourselves what it must feel like to be in that other person’s shoes (aka empathizing) it would definitely improve matters. My children (like many other adults) don’t know all this communication-skills jargon so I make it nice and simple for them. ‘I’m on your side’ I tell them. And they look at me with hope. They realize that I want to listen, and that I want to help them figure out a happy solution.
When either I or my husband find ourselves down, let’s say, an argumentative path, we do our best to stop and remember: ‘I’m on your side.’
That’s all it takes. ‘I’m on your side.’
p.s. and yes I’m person 1.