4 Skills to Increase Positive Family Interactions
I have discovered four skills that help limit misunderstandings and disagreements in our home. Honestly, I’m still a beginner in the practice of these four skills, but I have found them very helpful none the less. I’d like to share them with you because I think you will find them helpful as well. The first two skills have to do with managing our own mind and attitude. The second two skills offer a practical method for valuing the other person.
First, ask before you leap to conclusions. Do not assume you know what family members are thinking. Do not jump to conclusions about the motivations behind their actions or words. If you jump to conclusions, you may find yourself without a parachute. Instead, ask for clarification. Take the time to ask what they mean by their actions or words. Listen thoughtfully to their response. When you do ask for clarification, make sure you do it with the second skill deeply imbedded in your thoughts.
Second, assume the best. Make it a practice to believe each family member has some positive intent for their actions or words. Love believes all things. In love, assume that family members want to grow more intimate. Believe that family members want to have positive relationships with the family. Give the benefit of the doubt that family members have no intention of behaving simply to irritate or anger you. As an example, think about a toddler left at daycare for the first time. She cries and engages in tantrum behavior. She does not do this to irritate her mother, but in an attempt to remain close to her mother, to convince her mother to stay, to express a fear of being away from her mother. Her intent is good, but her behavior does not necessarily communicate her love and desire in a positive way. Parents respond best by accepting her behavior as an expression of her love and her fear of losing her mother, not as manipulation. Similarly, look beyond the irritating behaviors of family members to see the underlying positive intent and respond to that positive intent instead of the irritating behavior.
Third, remain aware of other family members. Although you need to “keep them in mind” whether you are with them or not, you especially need to pay attention to them when you interact with them. Observe them carefully. Listen to them sensitively. Hear the words they say as well as the tone of voice they use. Notice if they sound irritated or pleased. Pay attention to whether they look tired or energetic. Remain alert to their mood. As you remain aware of these details, practice the final skill.
Fourth, acknowledge the other person. Whether they look upset or happy, worried or content, angry or calm, acknowledge that. Report back to them what you see and hear: “You look especially happy today. What’s going on?” “You look upset, are you OK?” “You seem impatient right now, is anything going on?” “I’m glad you are staying so calm in this traffic. It makes me feel safer.” “You look angry. Is something wrong?” Here is a helpful pattern for acknowledging perceived emotions in other family members. Describe what you see or hear and then ask for clarification. After you ask for clarification, listen. Finally, ask if you can help in any way.
As each family member practices these four skills, misunderstandings and disagreements decrease and compassionate interactions increase. Remember, practice makes perfect so practice, practice, practice…and practice some more.