By: Tim Palmer, LMSW at Health West Pediatrics & OB/GYN
We have developed so many forms of communication as a species. We use spoken word, written languages, sign languages, and we even use nonverbal cues that we may not even notice we’re doing. With all these different means to communicate, how is it that problems arise due to miscommunication? Communication can be misunderstood in even the most straightforward situations, so is there any surprise that communication could go wrong in complex situations that can elicit a lot of emotions? Or situations that may take time to process? What options do we have to help these situations?
Something that we could do to help curb these situations is to use empathy as a response to miscommunications instead of trying to find fault. A lot of times we try to find the root or the cause of the problem first, which is what our analytical brain would try and do, but there are times when the best fix is to approach these situations with empathy first, then try to find ways to improve communication.
Some forms of empathy are as simple as reflecting to who you’re trying to communicate what they have just said so they know that you are listening. Asking clarifying questions is another way to both improve communication and show that you care about what people are saying and you want to make sure that you are on the same page.
For parents, one of the most important things for people, especially young people, is that they feel valid. Many different things can make someone feel invalid. Anything from daily conversations with parents that may be presented in the wrong way, to traumatic experiences that make peoples self-worth come into question. Invalidation can have many negative effects on the way people see the world, and we can help people to avoid this feeling by making them feel valid. Sometimes people use invalid means to try and meet a valid need, so it is important to keep an eye out for what you kids are trying to accomplish. A child may act out to try and get some attention, which can be frustrating for parents, but you can use this experience to try and get to the bottom of the behavior. This is not an opportunity to validate them breaking a vase, it is a time to practice more appropriate ways for them to get your attention and then validate them while you practice this new skill.
Communication can often be tricky, but if you feel like you don’t know what to say it is ok to state that you need a little time to process, think about the situation and respond with empathy and validation. Timothy Palmer, LMSW started at Health West Pediatrics clinic in 2019. He’s a Behavioral Health Integrationist and assists with patients on the same day they have behavioral health concerns. He graduated from Boise State University with a master’s degree in Social Work in 2019, and graduated from Idaho State University with Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work in 2018