The Communication Gap


Communication should be such a simple thing, but it is not.  It is one of the most complicated processes there is.  To communicate an idea effectively is almost like getting all of the planets to align and having to make it happen hundreds of times a day!

It seems to me that using words which are defined in a dictionary should be fairly straight-forward. Yet the way those words are combined, our tone of voice, the volume of our voice, what we are doing with our eyes, what else has happened to us during the day, surrounding noise and distractions, and so many other factors contribute to whether or not what we thought we said is what is actually heard.

It seems even more complicated with young people. Not only do they change the meaning of words on a five to ten year basis, but they have limited life experience within which they can contextualise what is being said.  However frustrating you find trying to communicate with your children don’t give up.  Giving up in frustration can look like the best option, but it is not.  Gently persist.

Here are some tips you might find useful if you are trying to communicate with your children:

Make sure you have their full attention.

Don’t try to communicate something when you are competing with the television or they have friends with them. Not only will they be irritated to start with but they won’t really be listening to you.

Avoid communicating something really important when you, and your child, are tired or irritated.

Establish eye contact.

Wait until they are looking at you and continue to look at you. This is one way to improve the certainty you have their attention.

Ask them to repeat what they think you have said.

This is called reflective listening and is a powerful communication tool. Reflective listening helps to confirm that the message has been heard and understood correctly. It works both ways. Get into the habit of repeating back to your children what you think they have said to you and ask if you have got it right. This not only prevents misunderstanding, it also role models the skill for your children.

When our son was around ten years old my wife and I found ourselves getting very frustrated when we asked him to do something and he didn’t do it. We eventually sought some professional help. We discovered that he had an auditory processing problem where he didn’t store things he heard in his short term memory. He could hear us and then forget we had spoken to him very quickly. The advice we received was to first reduce distractions, then get and maintain eye contact, give the instruction and, finally, get him to repeat what we were asking him to do back to us.

The change was immediate and almost unbelievable. We felt guilty that we had been cross with him when he didn’t do what we asked in the past. Give these simple strategies a try. I hope they help.