Politics and Communication

Senator John Kerry said his remark, “If you don’t study hard you get stuck in Iraq,” was a joke gone awry. President George W. Bush was critical, commenting to the Associated Press that “it didn’t sound like a joke to me. More important, it didn’t sound like a joke to the troops.” What did you think?

With this election, the political stakes were particularly high. Some bloggers and journalists in the Conservative camp were focused on Senator John Kerry’s “campaign gaffe.” Others on the Democratic team viewed this fixation as a GOP talking point – a smoke screen for what has become characterized as President Bush’s “inappropriately conducted war.”

Our concern is more personal – what lessons can you, the Sandwich Generation, take away from this controversy. How can you improve communications with your emerging adult children and aging parents?

We all know that words can hurt. An offhand remark or slip of the tongue can be emotionally damaging. If the World War II motto, “loose lips sink ships,” is leaving you with what has been termed the “foot-in-mouth syndrome,” add the following tips to your communication toolbox.

1. When addressing a sensitive issue, state a specific goal you want to accomplish. Be direct and clear in what you say. Don’t accuse or blame your listener’s character or ideas.

2. As body language and tone of voice count, assume a non-threatening stance and monitor your negative emotions. Be slow to complain or criticize. Take some responsibility by using “I-focused” statements to clarify that this is your personal opinion.

3. Listen closely without planning your response. Be empathic to the speaker’s position and ask questions for clearer understanding. Try to put yourself in the other’s shoes and look at the issue from that vantage point.

4. In a conflict, count to 10 before responding. Or, instead of escalating, walk away. Take time to calm down and agree to return to the discussion later and work out a solution.

5. Sometimes you do know what’s best. Take a stand and hold your ground when the safety or well being of your children or parents is at stake. Be patient as they grow to appreciate your position, even if it’s unpopular at the time. If political history is prologue, it seems like it is human nature to defend yourself initially. Instead of fighting back, take some time to reflect. Discuss your feelings with your family in flux about an issue that requires an apology. Use this as an opportunity – turn negative feelings into more positive ones, teach a life lesson, form a deeper connection.

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