“No, you don’t need to bring in anyone to help me. I can take care of myself!”
“But, Mom, everyone is going. You never let me do anything with my friends!”
Are these the opening salvos in your talks with your parents and children nowadays?
Lately we’ve received questions from Sandwiched Boomers about how to improve communications with family members – aging parents who are beginning to lose some mental sharpness, teenagers who are closing doors to parents, both literally and figuratively, grown offspring and their marital partners who are busy starting their own lives, and even a long-term spouse who may have a different agenda for retirement planning. For the next few days, we turn our focus to talking with our family-in-flux in ways that increase the likelihood that both sides are listening.
Communication is best when it works both ways – learning to listen yourself makes it more likely that you will actually be heard when you are speaking. So today we stress your job as the receiver of messages. Whether you are listening to aging parents, growing children, or your changing spouse, the first rule of good communication is to pay attention. Although you may be great at multi-tasking, don’t do it during important talks. Look at the person who is speaking to you – it will have a double whammy. You will learn a lot about his or her feelings from the body language and the speaker will know that you care enough to take the time to listen.
Give your partner in communication the time he needs to make his point – don’t interrupt with your critique. Show the respect you have for her by listening while she presents her case. Once your family member has finished speaking, let them know that you understand what they have said, even if you may not agree with it. Ask them questions to clarify what they have said, avoiding arguing or demeaning them.
As you practice the skills of “active listening,” you will find that family members are more likely to want to talk with you about issues that are significant to them. And the more motivated they are to communicate with you, the richer your conversations will become. What have you found to help when you are talking with your family about thorny topics?