“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
It’s a famous line from the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke” but it can be applied to life on a daily basis. Especially in a world where everyone seems to be communicating via text, email and twitter, and the tone of a message is impossible to read.
Louisa Storen, a licensed marriage/family therapist, said the first rule of communication is to do so face-to-face if possible, and by phone otherwise, because miscommunication often leads to conflict.
Even the most carefully worded message can be taken wrong. Suddenly, an email that the sender considered completely innocuous has the recipient up in arms and ready to do battle. This can result in a flurry of angry, hurt, or bewildered messages back and forth, all over a miscommunication.
Storen reiterates that people should converse with each other directly. If someone does receive a message that sparks a negative reaction, she suggests picking up the phone and calling. Tell the sender you are responding to the email or text, and go from there. The sender will typically repeat the message, which provides tone, and any questions can then be cleared up.
Of course, even direct communication can be tricky.
Men and women are especially prone to misunderstanding one another, regardless of the relationship, because of innate differences in the way God created us, according to research.
Storen said it can be especially tough for the opposite sexes to communicate because they have neurological and hormonal differences that cause them to approach conversations differently and respond in opposite ways to what is being said.
She cites the works of John Gottman, a leading expert on marriage and parenting who has conducted 40 years of research into the dynamics of couples.
Storen said when women enter a conversation they are looking for feedback. When they don’t receive it, they are more likely to escalate into criticism. Men, who are hardwired to defend, will in turn become defensive and engage the fight or flight response by withdrawing.
She said it creates a cycle of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
A simple suggestion is to start softly. Storen said women should approach a conversation in a calm way without making judgments. And men should give feedback quickly — answer the question or comment on the topic of discussion.
She noted that the three biggest areas of conflict and tension for couples are money, children and physical affection.
Storen said people tend to show love the way they want to receive it, but this will fall flat if it isn’t what the other person needs, which leads to another miscommunication between men and women. Men feel loved when they receive physical affection, while women need to feel love before physical affection.
“God really wanted to give us a challenge,” she said with a chuckle.
The therapist said couples need to communicate the proper love language for their partner, which could be physical affection, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or quality time.
She added that feeling loved and respected makes it easier to talk about issues.
The same is true with everyone we converse with, be it friends, co-workers or children. Storen said it is important to start all conversations calmly.
Although the workplace is hierarchical, it is important not to fall into a parent/child mentality. Employees and co-workers should be treated as adults, and spoken to as friends.
To make sure communication happens in a positive way, a couple of quick suggestions include:
l make requests as opposed to giving orders,
l validate employees by making them feel invested in the process, or involved with decision making,
l offer constructive criticism, i.e.: This part is really good, but could you rework this other bit?
The next step is making sure everyone understands one another. Storen said this can be done by going over what was said earlier and using statements such as “OK, let me make sure what we decided.”
This is a good tactic to use with children too, to make sure they don’t slip into their own world while you’re talking.
The little ones
Psychologists have said the brains of toddlers and adolescents are like construction sites, because so much is going on at once. They are also the two ages that are the most oppositional. They want to know parents are there and support them, but also need independence.
It’s like, “I need you, but keep your distance,” Storen said. “It’s a very narcissistic age.”
Conversations with any age can be tricky, and if parents aren’t careful, they can find themselves sucked into arguments over every little thing. A good tactic is to put the decision with the child by offering a simple choice, such as: You can do your homework and go to the fair, or you can stay home.
Storen advises to pick battles carefully. Stay firm on what is important, but let the rest go.
In the end, people are going to have miscommunications that lead to conflicts because that’s part of human emotions, she said.
The trick is to minimize those times, and when they do occur, recognize it and diffuse it. Use humor, or walk away if necessary, but Storen advises to always come back and talk about the issue so it ends on a constructive note.