Adoption complicates family life; it brings tangled emotions, high stakes, and passionate commitment. Adoption also adds the challenge of handling inevitable grief, loss, and identity issues of everyone in the family. (Yes, that includes both children and parents!)
Coaching develops strategies for handling the realities in our lives. It can help families connect and get along better. One tactic is to focus on communication because it is a foundational pillar of successful relationships.
We’ve addressed communication many times in previous posts. For example, we’ve explored The Five Love Languages, the use of therapeutic narratives and the importance of truth telling. (Follow these links to read more.)
With this in mind, remember in our previous post, we considered the importance of Intentionality in communication. By first clarifying in our own minds whether we are making a request of someone or stating a requirement, we can formulate conversations with accuracy and respect. This amplifies the likelihood of cooperation and helps avert misunderstandings, disappointments, and frustrations.
Once we are clear on which kind of statement we wish to make, our next step is to frame that intention as precisely as possible. To accomplish this, we must understand the elements of both a requirement and a request, what they share in common, and what specifically distinguishes one from the other. Unless we understand the difference, our communications will lack clarity, lead to confusion, and our relationships will suffer adversely.
Refer to the graphic on the left. Notice how similar the two are. It is no wonder both speaker and listener get confused. As you can see, both statements need a focused speaker, a focused listener, specific expectations, and specific completion time. Let's examine each element individually.
Why is a focused speaker important? Consider how many times you’ve spoken without pausing to gather your thoughts. Perhaps your attention was preoccupied and you delivered an answer, gave permission or, agreed to something which you’ve quickly regretted or wanted to recant. We’ve all been there—at home, at work and with friends. So yes, good communication requires a focused speaker.
Why is a focused listener important? Ever felt like you were talking to a wall? Pretty irritating, right? (And I assert that we’ve all been “guilty” of this “half listening.”)
None of us like to experience this, whether as the speaker who is being half-ignored or as the listener who will be held accountable for a response made on auto-pilot. By ensuring that the listener is actually paying attention, we can avert a lot of conflict.
Wouldn’t it be nice to reduce the number of times we encounter statements like the ones in this graphic on the left?
Both Requirements and Requests benefit from specific expectations. This seems obvious and yet so often we fall into habits of vagueness. Whether between spouses, or parent and child, in the absence of specifics, there is a potential minefield for disagreement. Consider the topic of chores. Parents often assign kitchen duty to kids. A parent’s idea of a clean kitchen can vary wildly from a child’s. (Of course, expectations should be appropriate to a child's age.)Address this problem by spelling out the specifics of the task in a family meeting. Then write down the details for and post them where they can be quickly accessed. (The fridge makes a perfect spot.)
Another essential detail of both a Requirement and a Request is a specific completion time. By when must the task be completed? When we leave the time vague, we open ourselves up to frustration, anger, or nagging—and its partner--annoyance. Remember a time when you asked a child or spouse to tidy up (kitchen, workshop, garage, desk, etc.) How often did they immediately begin the task? How often did they delay? How often did you feel yourself getting annoyed because they didn’t start quickly enough? How often did that lead to nagging on your part and annoyance on theirs? How often did you each get more vested in your positions and engage in an inner conversation that made you “right” and them “wrong”? Stress builds and builds until we lose control. Things get ugly. Everyone feels distressed.
Imagine the benefit that can result from mutually agreeing on a completion time, e.g, 8:00 p.m. Sunday. This specificity replaces vague terms like, “Yeah, I will,” or "Quit bugging me," or dismissive responses like "later," which may actually refer to some time before the end of the millennium. But when an exact completion time of 8:00 p.m. is clear to both parties, there is no confusion. No need to get agitated at a temporary delay because this deferral is not defiance.
Response or negotiation is the one element that distinguishes a Request from a Requirement. In a request, compliance is optional. Any or all of the first four elements may be adjusted. There may be immediate agreement on some of the details but not all. Discussion continues until both speaker and listener agree on each point. The conversation is calm as each party works to hammer out an acceptable deal.
How might using the communication practice outlined in this post benefit your family? Which step presents your greatest opportunity for improvement?