Reality Check: The Give and Take of Communication

There are so many communication pitfalls that it’s amazing that we can communicate at all! It’s not that we can’t make ourselves heard, rather, it’s the understanding /being understood part that’s so problematic.

Rebecca has a hard time communicating with her dad. No matter the topic, conversations end up in a shouting match. There’s no agreement, no resolution, and no one walks away happy.

A typical conversation goes like this: Dad asks, “Where have you been?” Rebecca perceives that as an unreasonable question that she doesn’t want to answer. So, she tells him as little as she thinks she can get away with. When that doesn’t work, she tells him what she thinks he wants to hear. When he doesn’t believe her, they argue.

Rebecca’s evasions and arguments generally result in dad giving up the fight. He walks away thinking that she’s impossible to deal with. Rebecca walks away thinking, “Why does he keep picking on me? Why won’t he just leave me alone?”

Rebecca’s friends commiserate. It’s not her fault; her dad is nosy and hard to get along with. He’s the adult; he should behave better and trust her. However, just because someone “should” do something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

Rebecca knows that she wants to get along better with her dad. She has finally realized that if she wants a change, she’ll have to make it herself.

Essentially, Rebecca hasn’t been treating her dad as a person with whom she could have a conversation. Her behaviour reflects a perception that’s closer to, “He’s a ‘thing’ that demands information that I don’t want to give!” She’s been communicating “at” him, not communicating “with” him.

However, because Rebecca genuinely wants improvement, she is prepared to try making a change.

Now it might seem counter-intuitive, but if you want to influence someone, try being open to being influenced yourself! If Rebecca wants to influence her dad to reduce the intrusive questioning, then she could try talking to him like a person rather than a ‘thing,’ with give and take in their conversations.

How? For example, Rebecca can choose to ask, “What do you need from me to be comfortable with where I’m going?” “What do I need to do so you have more trust in my judgment?”

Then, she could listen to his answers and act accordingly.

If Rebecca changes her perception of dad from a meddler (a thing) to a person who can provide helpful information, the result could be an improved relationship where each influences the other.

How else could Rebecca make changes? She can control whether she speaks or whether she listens. She can control her body language, her facial expressions, and her tone of voice. All of those behaviours have an impact on whether the conversation is a helpful communication or an unhelpful argument.

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