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Conflict With Your Teen

Good communication is vital during conflict. When we asked 5,000 adults what they wished their parents had done differently during times of conflict, they gave these three responses most often:

  1. They wished their parents had listened more.
  2. They wished they could have talked about feelings more.
  3. They wished they had talked to their parents more.

It's interesting that all three of those involve aspects of communication.

And as this list suggests, good communication during conflict begins with listening and not with searching for solutions. Men especially tend to pay little attention to what their loved ones are saying, concentrating instead on trying to fix the problem. That's why we want to emphasize in this module that we need to listen first and then look for ways to resolve the conflict. It's also why we'll discuss techniques for finding solutions.

Emotional Communication: Listen with Your Heart

Do you want to know one particularly nasty myth that keeps many people from experiencing the tremendous benefits of effective communication? Somewhere along the way, they have come to believe that real communication occurs when they understand the other person's words. They equate effective communication with accurately parroting back the words and phrases they hear.

But, in fact, good communication is more than that. True communica­tion usually does not occur until each partner understands the feelings that underlie the spoken words. People generally feel more understood, cared for, and connected when the communication first focuses on their emotions and feelings rather than merely on their words or thoughts.

Consider this the magic of effective communication. Our goal must go beyond understanding the spoken words to grasping the emotional nugget underlying the words. It's far more important to discover and address the emotions beneath the situation than to parrot the words we hear. Ask your­self, "What is the emotional impact of these words?" not merely, "What exact words did I just hear?"

Suppose a teen says, "I hate my school. Everyone ignores me and I want to be home schooled."

What did she mean? Consider carefully her two sentences. The teen used no "feeling" words but all "thinking" words. So if you reply, "So what you're saying is that you don't want to go to your school any longer and you'd rather be home schooled," you've completely missed the point. You've accurately reflected to her the words she just spoke, but you remain completely in the dark about her real concern — you remain in the "head" and we want you to move to the "heart."

But what if you listen for the emotions beneath the words by listening with your heart? What if you said, "Are you saying that you feel ignored by the teach­ers and the other students, that you don't matter?" Presto! This time, you've "got it." You listened beyond your daughter's words to her heart, to her real concern. You've tapped into her emotional message — her fear of being ignored.

A lot of us (especially men) struggle with this skill. Men tend to think in a linear way: cut to the chase, get to the bottom line. We want to solve a problem and complete a task, not deal with emotions. We want to figure out how to "fix it." Without listening for and responding to the emotions, however, all of the problem solving in the world won't get us to the real problem.

Effective communication comes down to listening and speaking with your heart. When people feel understood emotionally, they feel cared for. This is very different from listening to someone from the head — that is, looking merely for the content of the person's words, without paying attention to the feelings. The goal of effective communication is to understand the emotional message of the speaker. You have to ask yourself, What is this person feeling?

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Taken from The DNA of Parent-Teen Relationships: Discover the Key to Your Teen's Heart published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 1998 and 2005 by Gary Smalley and Greg Smalley, Psy.D. All rights reserved.

Next in this Series: Effective Communication With Your Teen