7400.362 - Family Life Management
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Instructor: David D. Witt, Ph.D.
Topic 7 - Communication

I. The Nature of Communication
Communication is the effective use of all our powers to get our point across to another person. It is impossible to "Not" Communicate - by our very silence we are telegraphing our anger, pleasure, some meaning. However, we can miscommunicate by deliberately or unintentionally lying, not paying attention, or remaining unaware of our real wants and needs. Becoming a good communicator requires practice and skill development beyond what we learned in high school.

Failure to communicate is the #1 reason for the failure of relationships.

II. Communication Channels
Communication is made up of two basic parts:

  • Verbal Communication is Language
  • Nonverbal Communication is everything that is not language, such as tone of voice, inflection, facial expressions, body language, the use of gestures, and so on.
Verbal and Nonverbal communcation occurs between two people in an environment full of background noise. Therefore, the setting for personal communication is very important.

Verbal Communication Channel's main function is the Report Function where the Content of the Message - The Information part - is delivered. When anyone uses a word - it has meaning because we've all been socialized to understand it. For example that L-O-V-E means hearts & flowers.

The verbal portion is also known as the digital portion - words, signs, symbols used to convey information.

Redundancy - a powerful safeguard against error and misunderstanding. Redundancy refers to the probability that patterns of content follow or preceed other patterns - so if one part of the message is missing or goes unheard - the receiver can still manage to understand most of the entire statement. For example: "i" before "e" except after "c" or How many "p's" in Stop, Stopping, Stopped (rules about using double vowels).

The English language is about 75% redundant. We have worked to evolve the language so that it is redundant to insure better communications (higher rates of successful message transmission). So that we can fill in the blanks (try it!):

NonVerbal Communication Channels comprise the Relationship Functions - also known as the analog portion of communication, and includes such things as:

  • mimicry.
  • paralanguage ("ummmmmmm", "aahhhhhh", baby talk).
  • kinesthetic aspects - pointing, waving, touching.
  • voice tone
  • eye movements
  • sneers
  • looks of anger or happiness
For effective communication nonverbal channels of communication should be consistent with verbal channels for purposes of insuring transmission of meaning. For example, if you desire your partner to listen carefully to a sious though you have, you'd adopt a serious tone in your voice, preface your remarks with a warning that something important is coming, put on a serious "face", tell them to listen carefully, then make your remarks.

Nonverbal channels can complicate assurance of meaning transmission by being unrelated - or running contrary to the words. Connotes poor communication skills.

Efficient communication involves high levels of skill for both verbal and nonverbal channels - A sort of social intelligence. Over time, patterns of redundancy idiosyncratically develop in family systems resulting in communication styles particular to individual families. These may be considered as "Relationship Rules" on which a couple bases their whole style of talking. Included here might be Who initiates and concludes interaction, Who occupies family status positions. Who performs role assignments. Families who do not make full use of nonverbal communication channels, or who have low social intelligence, are prone to inefficient communication - confusion and chaos - taking on the characteristics of a randomness and senseless family communication patterns.

Symmetrical and Complementary Patterns of Communication.

  • symmetrical interaction patterns - partners mirror each other's behavior.
    Here there is a sense of equality and a minimization of differences
    In the extrimis, such a relationship can escalate to intense competition over equality - a sort of mini-arms race.
  • complementary interaction patters - one person's behavior complements the other's
    This is often situational and rational and a dominant/submissive relationship can develop.
    Here there is a sense of inequality and maximization of differences.
    In the extremis, such a relationship can lead to inappropriately fixed roles - grown children still fully dependent on parents.

III. Patterns of Ineffective Communication

  • Mind Reading - assuming we know what the other is thinking and feeling.
  • Sending Double Messages - a message that has two conflicting meanings -
  • Gunnysacking - nursing past greivances and bringing them up for review while trying to resolve a present conflict
  • Stereotyping - all women are like that
  • Using "You" Sentences - You always do this!
  • Using Why Sentences - Why do you always have to have your way?
  • "Yes, But" - Yes, we did just have a simply wonderous sexual experience, but I still wonder if you are the one for me.
IV. Fundamentals of Successful Couple Interaction
  • Complete understanding of each other's role.
  • Reciprocity in role performances:
  • tting Needs Met: material/biological, needs. psychological/emotional needs. physical/sexual needs.
  • Equivalence of Role Functions - a form of equality.
  • Focus on the quality of interaction between the couple.
As complexity of family life increases (life in the ninties), as each family must evolve its own destiny, its own rules - the role of communication processes becomes increasingly central to healthy family functioning.

E. Communication Dysfunctions

    1. Poor Listeners:
    • The Faker
    • The Dependent Listener (placater)
    • The Interrupter
    • The Self-Conscious Listener
    • The Intellectual Listner
    2. Impediments to Communication
      Destructive Messages
      • Ordering
      • Threatening
      • Moralizing
      • Providing Solutions
      • Lecturing
      • Criticizing
      • Ridiculing
      • Analyzing
      • Interrogating
      • Withdrawing.
Other examples of Poor Communication Patterns
    -the Double Bind - Messages from different channels may serve to create a paradox through the simultaneous assertion of two mutually exclusive messages. Actors pay attention to this or run the risk of poor communication and poor role performance.
    • "Put down than pencil or mommy will spank."
    • Aunt Ellen stiffens as she sweetly asks for a Kiss.
    Double Binds are more significant in the context of close and long lasting relationships - need a history.

    -Disjunctive Communications Between Command & Report Functions -disparity between verbal and nonverbal communication.

      "Honey, what's the matter?" - "Nothing!!!"
    -Disqualification - sender invalidates his/her own message by preceding or following message with a disqualificati on:
    • Here's what I think, but don't go by me.
    • This is a dumb question, but XXXXXX.
    • I'm just a poor woman / a factory worker / inexpressive male and what do I know?
    Disconfirmation or Mystification - Receiver denies sender's message and sender's legitimacy
    • "You're not sick, just afraid!"
    • "I can see how someone like you would say that!"
    -Punctuational disjunctions - a chain of communicative events recurring in a relationship.
      Ex: Person A brings up an unpleasant subject -> Person B withdraws to another room -> A responds by talking louder and following B - > B responds by ignoring A -> A responds by referring to further unpleasantries -> B etc.

      "I can't keep the house up because you won't even pick up after yourself - "I don't pick up after myself because what's the use? Who could tell the difference around here? -> It's always my fault! That's right blame me -> If the shoe fits wear it -> You know all about shoes because every pair you have is right there in the middle of the bedroom -> bedrooms? Now that's a subject you have a lot of experience with -> Don't start with me! -> Start? etc.

    Punctuation also can refer to the confusion about the nature of family roles: Provider, Decider, Arbitrator.
V. The Communication of Intimacy within Families
    A. Two types of communication:
      1. Instrumental commands designed for routine role maintenance and performance. 2. Intrinsic communication designed to nurture the family's full potential of intimacy, depending on the family's tolerance for closeness.
    B. Intimacy is a special kind of interpersonal sharing consisting of:
    • detailed, deep knowledge and understanding arising from close personal contact or familiar, joint, experiences.
    • a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship.
    • sexual expressiveness
    Each family (depending on governing family rules) will express intimacy differently. Relational currencies differ.

    C. Patterned intimacy / Conflict cycles, while serving to regulate the amount of intimacies exchanged, are caused by:

  1. Freedom versus Security Dilemma - The documented human need for intimacy (to be loved, held, caressed) seems real, there is also a "fear of intimacy" in humans (fear of being controlled, loss of personal mobility.
  2. Family themes, images, and boundaries that are rooted in member's past histories, contributing to varying rates of intimacy development.
  3. Touching, consistent use of first names, rememberances, self-disclosure, well-defined role structure, negotiated.
Fundamentals of Successful Couple Interaction

1. Complete understanding of each other's role.

2. Reciprocity in role performances:

    Getting ---------material/biological, needs.
    Needs ----------psychological/emotional needs
    Met ------------ physical/sexual needs.
3. Equivalence of Role Functions - a form of equality, fairness and fair-play is very important in today's family.

4. Focus on the quality of interaction between the couple - things move pretty fast today. All families and all family members need quality time.

5. Show Respect for your sweetie by giving nonjudgmental feedback.

6. Using Confirmation (Acceptance of Other) Techniques

    It is more Confirming to:
  • -talk to a person rather than about them. Includes: Verbal using person's name taking them seriously acknowledging their presence Nonverbal positive touching eye contact positive gestures (head nods)
  • -use dialogue rather than monologue (don't lecture).
  • -accept the other person and listen (don't jump to conclusions).
  • -treat the other personally rather than impersonally.
  • -differentiate between your sweetie and others.
Improving Your Listening Skills
  • 1. Become an ACTIVE LISTENER. -Look at your partner -Concentrate on what is being said -Watch for nonverbal cues -Try to understand what he/she is trying to say. -Communicate your interest in the interaction by responding periodically with "I see", "I get it".
  • 2. Resist Distractions
  • 3. Control your emotions and your tendency to respond before your partiner is finished.
  • 4. As questons and rephrase to clarify your partner's intentions.
  • 5. Summarize (better yet, write down the important points you are trying to make. Make an outline.
  • 6. Practice.

Areas of Conflict - conflict is a direct result of power struggles in marriage.

    A. Money - the number 1 area of conflict for people in their first marriage (Remarried people fight about their children more). Fighting about money can be resolved by:
    1. Keeping track of debts and payments
    2. Careful checkbook management
    3. Keeping spending patterns of each person under control.
    4. Being in agreement about strategies for money management
    5. Making spending decisions together
    B. Work - the 2nd biggest trouble maker is argument over time spent at work - particularly husbands who work too much! Other areas under work disagreements:
    1. Should wife work outside the home?
    2. Balancing housework and chores with work outside - who cleans what?.
    3. Child care and nurturing of children - equal child care responsibilities
    4. Relationship maintenance and romance - Time for the couple or there'll be no couple!
    C. Sex - 3rd in frequency of disagreement is the general area of sex - the frequency, the quality, and sometimes infidelity.
Destructive Consequences of Conflict - If left unresolved, conflict can fester into emotional wounds that are hard to heal. The best practice is to never allow conflict to continue for very long.
    Frustration = the emotion that is experienced when an important need is being blocked or when an important satisfaction is being denied.

    Rejection and Betrayal - resulting in

    1. Rejection follows conflict involving a basic needs going unmet
    2. Emotional involvement with another person usually involves dropping the defenses we normally keep in place - Therefore: rejection by an intimate we have come to trust and upon whom we rely is a very basic form of Betrayal.
    3. Lowered Self-Esteem = We chip away at each other in some sort of Zero-Sum Game we play. This devastates the relationship.
    4. Displacement - when our feelings are hurt and we suffer loss of self-esteem, we begin (unknowingl y perhaps) to displace our feelings from the real cause of the deprivation (who we are angry with and why) to a more convenient or safer disagreement .
    5. Sexual conflicts, for example are often displaced to safer topics of discussion
    Psychological Games - an interaction in which each person in a conflict attacks the other - attempting to score a "win" in stead of attacking the underlying conflict.
    Psychological games are covert (hidden) and dishonest.
Attack and Defense (styles of conflict)
  • Authoritarian Resolution - "I win, you lose!"
  • Permissive Acceptance - always giving in
  • Passive Aggression - "You go on, I'll just sit here - ALONE!" - "Well, if you really want me to come with you..."
  • Evasion
  • Honest Resolution - the only strategy that has lasting postive results is this one.  
Constructive Conflict Resolution -
  • Leveling - saying what you mean, and how you feel. Try to be aware of the source of conflict when it comes. Face up to conflict, addressing it without becoming defensive or hostile.
  • Active Listening - Focus your whole attention on the other while they explain their complaints. Make gestures that communicate understanding Occasionally stop the explaination and clarify.
  • Attacking the Source of the Conflict and not the person.
  • Role Taking - actually put yourself in the other person's place. Restate the problem from the other's point of view.
  • Comparing Mutual Goals
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