Coaching & Support Before, During, and After Adoption

Can Courtesy Create Confusion?

by | Jun 22, 2016 | General Discussion, Strengthening Family Relationships

Repairing a relationship breachIn our previous post we examined how to repair breaches in our relationships. Families who regularly practice this skill improve the quality of their relationships. One obvious point that cannot be overstated: Begin and end with connection. This is the conduit to effective communication. It opens hearts and minds.

As Dr. Karen Purvis taught, “Connect before correct.” In the absence of connection our words are processed as static, background noise that is easily dismissed. To get children to care about and listen to us, they must feel connected to us. Think about it. Connection is just as important to us as adults; we tune out those who feel peripheral or irrelevant to us and choose to attend only to those whom we judge as important. We do not allow acquaintances or strangers to dictate our actions. We heed sources which we value, those to which we feel connected.

But even the healthiest relationships experience conflict. Most often, these difficulties arise out of communication mismatches. We may think we conveyed our intent clearly but often we have not. Consider these common tripwires. Sometimes we expect family members to read our mind. We feel wounded when they do not guess accurately because they should know. Accurate mind reading is after all, an unreliable and unlikely ability. We stew. Tensions increase.

Another common communication mismatch occurs when we give directives. In an effort to be courteous and not appear overly bossy, we may say,

“Please do the dishes,”

“Please, clean up your room.”

“Do your homework.”

“Please be home at a reasonable hour.”


Think back to a time when you spoke similar statements. Most likely, you expected compliance. But, some people—especially kids and spouses–might interpret these as requests and see fulfillment as an option.

In our mind fulfillment of these tasks is NOT optional. We expect action. And most likely, we want it promptly. We’ve fallen into a common communication error. In each of these statements we’ve disguised a requirement as a request and set everyone up for frustration and failure. The completion time frame is undefined. Our idea of a clean room probably differs dramatically from a teen’s standards. This is a classic set up for conflict. What is a parent to do?

Request or requirementWith a dash of intentionality, many conflicts can be avoided. First, we must be clear in our own minds. What is our intention? Are we making a request or a requirement? To help answer that question let’s establish the distinction between a request and a requirement.

The most obvious is that a requirement must be done while a request is optional and may even be open to negotiation.

In our next post we’ll focus on how to frame a request clearly and ensure completion.