Crisis occurs for any number of reasons. Sometimes it is a natural disaster, major loss in the family, loss of job or financial status. Sometimes it is a global pandemic, which results in widespread social isolation. If we are lucky, we have family to be isolated with, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. It is paramount that we learn to communicate effectively, respectfully, and empathetically with each other during difficult times of stress.
We talk and write to friends, co-workers, and family members all the time. But special attention needs to be paid to communication during times of family change or community disaster (such as COVID-19). If it is easier to communicate respectfully and clearly with people you hardly know than with your own family members, or if communicating under stress feels overwhelming it could be beneficial to consider some of the suggestions written here.
Why do you think it is so difficult to communicate calmly with family vs. people we don’t know all that well?
We have invested a lot of ourselves into the people we live with, or our biological family – for instance, our children and spouses. We can be prone to having expectations that because of our close ties they think the same way we do, or that they should just know how we are feeling and act accordingly. Sometimes we take our perceptions of their “mis-steps” personally. In my clinical practice, frequently we discuss that the easiest place to deposit our negative feelings (anger, fear, sadness, anxiety) is on the people we are closest to, and that is because we trust them to care for us. However, if we as a family are dealing with this crisis together it is important that we take a look at our family members specific set of coping skills and defense mechanisms, so that we can be mutually supportive of each other.
Communicating in a Crisis
It would be unrealistic to expect perfection of ourselves in a crisis, we are bound to feel stressed. The following strategies have shown to help individuals communicate effectively in stressful times and situations.
- Learn your stress signals and those of your family members. Think of stress signals like a stop light, yellow means slow down and red means to STOP. Some examples of stress signs include shutting down, no longer making eye-contact, becoming hot and sweaty or increased heart rate.
- Be honest. Sometimes we do not say what we need to say in fear of hurting our loved ones, but it is important that we speak our truth in a tactful and kind way. Stay focused on ONE issue at a time.
- Make sure you think the problem through, that you have collected all the important data and are prepared to speak. Don’t go in guns blazing and expect your family to be on the same page as you.
- Listen, take turns, lead when necessary, and listen without interruption or criticism.
Don’t wait until a crisis to learn what kind sharing and communication styles work for you and your family. COVID 19 is an unusual event to experience as a family, but crisis and challenges will continue to occur. Preparing families for change means utilizing regular communication. A family meeting is a very useful tool and could be done weekly to promote continued improvement in communicating effectively with each other.
- Begin your first family meetings with something light or fun, try sharing what you are grateful for, or compliment each member of the family.
- Develop traditions to begin and end the meeting with, this will help everyone feel anchored and promote a sense of safety in crisis.
- Stay organized, focus on only a few issues and don’t jump around.
- Make sure every member feels welcome, heard and safe – don’t use blame to single one member out.
- Use “I” Statements ex: When you do X I feel X way. This promotes accountability for your ow feelings without using blame.
- When dealing with children, try and provide honest and simple answers.
- Finally, demonstrate confidence that your family will be able to survive whatever the challenge they are facing is.
Using these tips will help each person in your family feel safer and communicate effectively.