Communication: The ‘How-to’ of Talking

In a quest for a more satisfying (or at least, less irritating) life with his parents, Liam has asked cousin Larry for help. Now, Liam’s wondering if the reason Larry gets along with his parents is because they always want the same things. Anybody could get along like that! In Liam’s perception, his parents don’t agree with him about anything.

This article is one in a series  on communication.
You can find the first article in the series here.

Larry’s undeterred. “My parents and I don’t always agree. You don’t have to agree on every issue to get along. But we do keep a close watch on how we talk. Attitude matters. Some attitudes will make your conversations deadly and everyone ends up unhappy. Because I don’t want that, and neither do my parents, we’ve agreed to avoid nagging, criticizing, blaming, complaining and threatening.”

From Liam’s perspective, “Yeah, but my parents are always nagging, criticizing, and those other things. I can’t make them stop.”

Larry wonders, “Is it only them? What specifically did you say in the conversation that ended up in a big fight?”

Liam, “I was pretty mad. I said they never let me do anything I want, they’re always finding fault. I probably said they’re the worst parents ever and if they don’t stop, I’ll never talk to them again. And I might have slammed the door.”

In that brief outburst, Liam managed to blame his parents for his not having any fun, complained about their treatment of him, and criticized their parenting. Then he threatened not to talk to them. Liam quite efficiently included plenty of deadly attitudes in one rant!

Now, Liam is quite correct; he can’t make his parents stop nagging and criticizing. However, he can try something different. What? Reality Therapy suggests encouraging, listening, trusting, respecting, and more.  If that sounds too complicated, pick just one new attitude, such as respect.

It’s hard for Liam to buy in. “But why should I treat them with respect if they don’t respect me? Why should I have to be the one to change?”

For Larry, it’s a simple matter of fact.  “You know you can’t make them treat you with respect. But you can be respectful. In the long run, they might stop nagging and criticizing, or not. You can’t control your parents. But you already know that the way you have been talking to them hasn’t been working too well.”

Reluctantly, Liam acknowledges the truth of that. “However, it still doesn’t solve my problem. What do you do when they don’t agree with what you want?”

“Find out what their objection is and negotiate a way to meet it,” suggests Larry. “Ask them what they want. Is there a possible compromise so you can each get some of what you want? There’s no guarantee, but that shows you’re thinking about what they want.  Do it with respect; it won’t help if you’re sarcastic, by the way.”

You do have some power—the power to change the tone of the conversation. How you talk will influence the situation. You, by yourself, can make it better, even if you can’t make it perfect.

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