We have developed so many forms of communication as a species. We use spoken word, written languages, sign languages, and we even use nonverbal ques that we might not even notice we are doing. With all these different means to communicate, how is it that so often problems arise due to mis-communication? 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, and then try to find ways to improve communication.
Some forms of empathy are as simple as reflecting back to the person with whom 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 that you want to make sure that you are both on the same page.
One of the most important things for people, especially young people, is that they feel validated. Many different things can make someone feel invalidated. 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 your 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. For instance, if a child, out of anger, breaks a vase, they might need some validation. 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 okay to state that you need a little time to process, think about the situation, and respond with empathy and validation.
Tim Palmer is a LSMW at Health West Pediatrics in Pocatello Idaho.