“Active listening” is key to developing effective communication

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Family eating dinner Effective communication involves the utilization of active listening skills. As an active listener, you demonstrate your interest in what is being said using both verbal and nonverbal communication techniques and you open the door for others to begin using the same techniques. The goal is to Guide the family from Positions to Solutions – a directional GPS, so to speak.

Here are 10 key elements of “good” or effective communication through active listening:

  1. The Conversation Booster – Encourage families to set the tone with a question or comment that has an important purpose with no hidden agenda. The goal is to focus on what’s really important to someone else and why. Encourage others to elaborate, add additional details and express emotions.
  2. Acknowledging and Showing Appreciation–When someone is angry, worried or unhappy, reflect upon what you’ve heard and acknowledge the emotion. Expressing appreciation for someone’s participation in a difficult conversation can help build trust and set a tone of respect.
  3. Ask Clarifying Questions, Carefully – Elaboration often helps uncover more information and emotions.
  4. Frequent Summarization – When conversations get bogged down, everyone feels “stuck.” By summarizing what you’ve heard, everyone has a chance to hear their own statements to know they’re understood. It provides for validation and clarification, and it opens the floor to new ideas.
  5. Reframing – Things can get intense in family discussions. Accusations, blame, perceived motives and insults can take over the conversation. A reframe focuses on interests and turns down the heat by removing judgments and inflammatory statements. It requires you to look for the underlying concerns and values that may be driving someone to make a challenging or upsetting statement.
  6. Use Technology Wisely – Technology can be a double-edged sword. While it can make communication more efficient, it also can make it more complicated. You don’t have the additional help of voice intonation or visual perception, so email messages can be misinterpreted. And people use it in different ways – some people check messages daily, others weekly, some not at all. It’s important for family members to determine a workable and reliable system for communicating.
  7. Introduce Optimism to Move the Conversation Forward – When families are in conflict, they may begin to lose hope. They may even give up on the possibility of ever resolving a dispute. If your family is in this situation, bring up things you’ve done well together in the past. What shared struggles or successes have your family experienced together? Bring the conversation back to common interests, which might include fairness, Mom and Dad’s financial security, or a parent’s health concerns. These topics can be a source of encouragement when the discussion gets bogged down.
  8. Use Transparency to Build Trust – Openness and sincerity shows your willingness to express difficult thoughts and feelings. It opens the door for others to do the same. As hard as it might be, transparency opens the door to thoughtful, meaningful conversation.
  9. Use “And” Instead of “But” –“But” negates positive comments. Using “and” in a reframed sentence makes your point without negating the acknowledgement.
  10. Avoid Toxic Questions and Comments – People who use words like “always” or “never” make it difficult to move forward. Rephrase and clarify to reach a more specific statement that deals directly with the issue at hand, without passing judgment or assigning blame. Avoid focusing on the negative and refrain from fueling animosities.


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