Understanding why communication styles are important will strengthen your relationships.
Not too long ago, I wrote about a text message that a mother-to-be had sent to her family and friends.
“Hi everyone! Just wanted to let you know a couple of things we’ve decided about the first couple weeks after we bring home the baby. We want to have some time alone to bond with him, so we’ll let you know when we are ready for visitors. When that time comes, we ask that you be tested for Covid before visiting, and wash your hands before holding the baby. Also, no kissing him! Thanks for understanding.”
Her mother-in-law, a first-time grandmother, was upset by the message, but also by the way it was communicated. To her, a group text was inappropriate and insulting: She felt her daughter-in-law should have initiated a one-on-one conversation. This difference in communication styles added to the tension of the situation. Sadly, it’s probably not the last time there will be miscommunication in this family!
Miscommunication happens when a message doesn’t get through to the person you are speaking to. Sometimes that’s because the message is hard to understand or isn’t shared in the right place or time. But often, it’s simply a case of communication styles that don’t match. Communication styles can vary across culture, generation, and personality. When your communication styles don't match, it can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and arguments. Learning about the communication styles of your grandchild’s parents is an important step in preventing family rifts.
Start by defining your own communication style. Do you like to get straight to the point? Do you try to avoid confrontation? I liked the quick communication styles assessment available at PersonalityLingo.com. Sometimes, just reading about different communication styles can make you understand your loved ones better. Even better, invite your family members to take the quiz and then talk about your results.
Even if your family members don’t want to take a quiz, you can learn a lot about their communication style with thoughtful observation. Are they more likely to text than call? Do they shut down in large groups of people? Do they move around while they are talking? Are they direct in what they say, or do they frequently apologize for things beyond their control? Are they visibly annoyed when someone interrupts them? Do they always try to keep the peace?
Differing communication styles within families can be a source of strength for the family as a whole. Be mindful of the fact that every communication style has plusses and minuses; it will help your relationships if you focus on the positive. If your daughter-in-law is very direct in communicating what she needs, like the woman above, be glad you don’t need to try to read her mind (even if you don’t like the message!).
Another important thing to consider when you need to get a message across is timing. If it feels vital to tell them something, make sure they are able to be receptive. If you have something big to say, let them know you want to find a time to discuss it, and ask when they would like to set that time. Over a meal is good, neutral place. For day-to-day communication, pay attention to when they seem most open to conversation. Naptime might seem like a good time to you, but it may be the only time your daughter gets to concentrate on her own priorities.
It never hurts to ask someone when and how they’d like to stay in touch, but it can also work to just pay attention. When I called one of my daughters while she was in college, I was invariably talking to an abrupt child who was clearly annoyed to have to talk to her mother. However, she’d often call and happily chat with me while walking to class. It didn’t take long for me to learn to just wait for her calls.
Do differences in communication styles affect your family’s relationships? Let us know in the comments!