7400.602 Family in Lifespan
10 - The Challenge of Communication
Much of the
satisfaction and dissatisfaction of marriage and family
life is rooted in the way people communicate. We are
always communicating to each other, in the sense that our
words, our lack of words, and our expressions are
interpreted by others to say something about our mood, our
feelings, and perhaps our relationships.
When most people use the term communication, they are
probably thinking of verbal communication, the use of
words to convey our ideas to others. As symbolic
interactionists have shown, humans are symbolic creatures;
we create, manipulate, and employ symbols to direct our
own behavior and to influence the behavior of others.
Words are only a part of the meaning in communication. It
is estimated that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the
meaning we convey is through the nonverbal part of our
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
There are different kinds of nonverbal communication:
clothing worn, facial expressions and eye behavior,
touching, and the cues we give in oral speech. Nonverbal
cues have a number of functions in communication: They
complement our words; they contradict our words; they
repeat the message; they regulate communication; they may
substitute for words; they may accent the verbal message;
and they may trigger attributions.
Communication is made up of two basic parts: Verbal
Communication is Language while 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
communication occurs between two people in an environment
full of background noise. Therefore, the setting
for personal communication is very important.
When you communicate to
someone depends not only on what you say and how you say
it but also on how the other person interprets what you
say and how you say it. The receiver decodes, or
interprets the message and filters it through his or her
ideas and feelings before encoding a reply. At each phase
of the process, there can be static - interference of some
kind that hinders accurate 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, among other things. The verbal portion is
also known as the digital portion - words, signs, symbols
used to convey information.
- The sender, the media of transmission, and the
receiver are all sources of static. Senders may transmit
with static because they are not certain of their own
feelings or ideas. Static occurs in the media when there
is a discrepancy between the nonverbal and verbal
communication. Receiver static occurs when the listener
filters the message through his or her own ideas and
- When we talk with others we inevitably communicate
feelings as well as ideas. Feelings are very important
in the marital relationship.
Redundancy - a powerful
safeguard against error and misunderstanding. Redundancy
refers to the probability that patterns of content follow
or precede 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:
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!):
- "i" before "e" except after "c"
- How many "p's" in Stop, Stopping, Stopped
- rules about using double vowels
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 serious
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
Symmetrical and Complementary Patterns of Communication.
patterns allow partners to mirror each other's behavior.
Here there is a sense of equality and a minimization of
differences. In the extremis,
such a relationship can escalate to intense competition
over equality - a sort of mini-arms race. Complementary
interaction patterns are those in which 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. There are various ways we can listen to others,
not all of which are helpful to effective communication.
- Complete understanding of each other's role.
- Reciprocity in role performances: Getting 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, and as
each family must evolve its own destiny, its own rules,
the role of communication processes becomes increasingly
central to healthy family functioning.
A number of styles of listening impede effective
Ineffective Communication - here's a list:
- Fakers only pretend to be listening.
- Interrupters never allow the other to finish.
- Self-conscious listeners are concerned primarily with
their own status in the eyes of the other rather than
with the ideas and feelings of the other.
- Intellectual listeners attend only to the words of the
- There are various things that people can do to improve
their listening skills: taking the initiative in
communication; resisting distractions; controlling
emotions and the tendency to respond before your partner
is finished; asking questions and rephrasing to clarify
your partner’s meaning; making use of the speed of your
thoughts by summarizing; and practicing.
A. Mind Reading - assuming we know what the other is
thinking and feeling.
There are various
impediments to communication, including the failure to
listen. In addition, we need to be aware of certain kinds
of destructive messages and of important gender
differences in communication patterns.
B. Sending Double Messages - a message that has two
conflicting meanings -
C. Gunny sacking - nursing past grievances and bringing
them up for review while trying to resolve a present
D. Stereotyping - all women are like that
E. Using "You" Sentences - You always do this!
F. Using Why Sentences - Why do you always have to have
G. "Yes, But" - Yes, we did just have a simply wondrous
sexual experience, but I still wonder if you are the one
Impediments to Communication would be destructive messages
(Ordering, Threatening, Moralizing, Providing Solutions,
Lecturing, Criticizing, Ridiculing, Analyzing,
Interrogating, and Withdrawing.
examples of Poor Communication Patterns:
- Ineffective communication impedes intimacy and
facilitates misunderstanding, feelings of rejection, and
conflict. There are a number of common destructive
messages that characterize ineffective communication.
Four of the most common are: complaining/criticizing,
contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. There
- are a number of other ways of communicating that are
hazardous to a good relationship: ordering, threatening,
moralizing, providing solutions, lecturing, ridiculing,
analyzing, and interrogating.
- There are various gender differences that represent
impediments to communication. Men rarely talk about
personal matters and approach life as a contest in which
each party is striving to preserve independence and
avoid failure. Women approach life as a community affair
in which the goal is to maintain intimacy and avoid
- Communication sometimes lapses into a kind of silent
tolerance. While it is true that lack of communication
is a common complaint, it is also true that for many
couples the quality of communication improves over the
course of the marriage.
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.
Double Binds are more
significant in the context of close and long lasting
relationships - need a history.
- "Put down than pencil or mommy will spank."
- Aunt Ellen stiffens as she sweetly asks for a
Disjunctive Communications Between Command & Report
Functions -disparity between verbal and nonverbal
what's the matter?" - "Nothing!!!"
Disqualification - sender invalidates his/her
own message by preceding or following message with a
Receiver denies sender's message and sender's legitimacy
- 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?
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.
- "You're not sick, just afraid!"
- "I can see how someone like you would say
IV. The Communication of
Intimacy within Families
Two types of communication
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
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 where each family (depending on
governing family rules) will express intimacy differently.
Relational currencies differ.
Patterned intimacy /
while serving to regulate the amount of intimacies
exchanged, are caused by:
Fundamentals of Successful
- 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.
- Family themes, images, and boundaries that are rooted
in member's past histories, contributing to varying
rates of intimacy development.
- Touching, consistent use of first names, remembrances,
self-disclosure, well defined role structure,
1. Complete understanding
of each other's role.
2. Reciprocity in role
Getting ---------material/biological, needs.
3. Equivalence of Role
Functions - a form of equality, fairness and fair play is
very important in today's family.
Needs ----------psychological/emotional needs
Met ------------ physical/sexual needs.
4. Focus on the quality
of interaction between the couple - things move pretty
fast today. All families and all family members need
5. Show Respect for your
sweetie by giving nonjudgmental feedback.
6. Using Confirmation
(Acceptance of Other) Techniques
It is more Confirming to:
Improving Your Listening
- -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
- -treat the other personally rather than impersonally.
- -differentiate between your sweetie and others.
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 partner is
4. As questions 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.
is important, but not sufficient for a satisfying
marriage. On the other hand, it is necessary: You can’t
have a satisfying marriage without satisfying
communication. Satisfying communication facilitates the
growth of both marital satisfaction and intimacy. Couples
that are satisfied with their relationship, who define
their marriage as a happy one, and who indicate high
levels of intimacy also report satisfying patterns of
communication. There are certain aspects of communication
that contribute to the well- being of marriage.
There are numerous books,
workshops, and courses designed to help people improve
their communication skills. Skills can be improved by
attending to some basic rules and practicing them at every
opportunity. All rules for improving
communication skills revolve around the goals for making
us more effective senders and more effective receivers.
Unfortunately, a clear message sent in a non-threatening
manner does not guarantee accurate
communication. Communication skills can be
improved by practicing the rules of communication. Certain
exercises are specifically designed to improve
communication skills. For those who wish to enhance the
quality of their intimate relationships, good
communication skills are imperative.
- Everyday conversations may
be one of the more important ingredients in a satisfying
- Self-disclosure comes up
repeatedly as an essential factor in an intimate
relationship. In marriage, self-disclosure enhances both
satisfaction and intimacy. Exchange theory suggests that
self-disclosure should be equitable.
- Certain other aspects of
communication are also related to marital satisfaction
and intimacy. In happy marriages, there are more
stimulating and fun-filled conversations.