Seniors: Calm, Deliberate and Effective Communication

Jan 13th, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Senior Moments Blog

During the time we lived in Omaha, my career included providing psychotherapy and counseling to couples having difficulty with their relationships.  A lot of the focus in therapy was on helping them learn to communicate effectively.  That kind of communication had to be based on mutual respect and affirmation for each other.  I thought about this as I listened to President Obama’s words last night in Tucson, the memorial service on the University of Arizona campus.

I don’t know why we have such difficulty communicating with each other in this country.  Husbands and wives, political opponents, church members, brothers and sisters.  Estrangement is common-place.  Communication is enabled hundreds of times over via the cell phone and Internet.  Yet we cannot seem to talk with each other in civil ways that promote effective and productive relationships. 

I don’t have the answers to those issues.  But I do have some ideas about how to learn to communicate more effectively.

  1. We first have to learn what it is that we are missing.  What do I not know about effective communication?  What is happening when my voice escalates and I lose control of what I am saying?  We have to know what the basis of our ineffective communication is. What is happening to you when you move from the issue being discussed to accusing the other of being a stupid idiot?  Why do you move away from whatever it is you are talking about, to accusing the other?  You are missing something, and you need to identify what it is.
  2. Once you learn what you are missing, you need to identify options for changing the behavior.  For example, if you learn that you escalate and accuse when you no longer have an effective argument against what the other is saying, you need to identify what you can do at that point in the future; e.g., saying something like, “You know, I don’t have any more to say about this, so let’s drop it; let’s just agree to disagree and remain friends/married/colleagues.”  Then hold out your hand for a shake, or extend your arms for a hug.  Try to refrain from copying your favorite TV character who yells and screams because the script told her to do that.  Write a different script for yourself.
  3.  Once your new behavior is identified, you need to practice it.  Practice in front of the mirror.  Practice with trusted friends and family members.  Practice when you are driving alone in the car.  If you’ve discovered your emotional state moving toward hysteria, take several deep breaths to calm your system down.  There is nothing worth creating dis-ease for yourself when it can be prevented.  Practice, Practice, Practice… until the new behavior feels normal.  Until you find yourself responding to others with calm and deliberate and civil words.
  4. Enjoy the new calm your spirit has created.  Your spirit and body are in constant communication, and the new calm in your spirit will be transmitted to your body.  You will feel better when you manage communication more productively, with everyone in your daily life.  Your health will improve and you will be perceived by others as someone they want in their friendship circle.

Another word of caution… if you discover you cannot learn the new behavior you have identified, or if you cannot identify alternative behaviors that are more productive, you need help.  Find a counselor who can help you with issues that prevent you from normal problem solving behavior.  Or if you have gone through the change process and are enjoying the calm of the new behavior, and find someone else in your life stuck in unproductive communication styles, you have a couple of options.  First, you can try to suggest the other change her/his behavior per the four steps above; or you can choose to move away from the relationship.  Either way, don’t allow a difference between you to escalate; be sure you remain in the productive communication process.



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