Communication & Problem Solving
By Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.
Copyright 1996-2003. Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.
The ability to negotiate
our needs in the family and our capacity to solve problems is also
a function of our ability to understand our feelings. A young child
depends on adults to accurately name their feelings. It is through
this process that self awareness develops and a child begins to verbally
articulate what is going on inside.
But having a well-functioning “communication
membrane” which allows us to receive and send messages smoothly
is not just about physical or emotional health. The overall atmosphere
present in a family is directly related to whether communication facilitates
or blocks conflict resolution. Families may become dysfunctional when
problems cannot be solved. The capacity of family members to resolve
problems contributes to an overall spirit of harmony or dissonance
present in the home. Attention to family atmosphere is important because
high and consistent levels of tension related to unsolved difficulties
is thought to be the single largest contributor to maladjustment in
Problem Solving and Communication
A common pattern which creates distress in a marriage
is one in which one spouse confronts conflict and the other blocks
communication through withdrawal, sulking, stonewalling, flippancy,
discounting or other methods of conflict avoidance.
One of the strongest predictors of divorce is the
inability to solve problems. Contrary to popular belief, neither dissatisfaction
reported in a marriage nor frequency of disagreements spawn failed
marriages. Instead, styles of communication that inhibit problem solving
spell trouble. A legacy of unresolved conflict may be the writing
on the wall. Communication that relies heavily on blaming, placating,
whining or sarcasm to express feelings leads to protracted discussions
with less probability for reaching solutions. Researchers describe
communication to be one of three important criteria, but the most
pivotal in family functioning.
Family communication either strengthens or inhibits
bonding and adaptation, two other important dimensions of family relationships.
It is easy to intuitively identify when we are having
difficulty being understood or getting our point across. Similarly,
we can often feel when we do not connect with another person’s
interpretation of an experience. What is more difficult to understand
is the relationship between our own communication and the potential
for solving problems.
One way to know if your communication is effective
in the family is to take note of how or if problems get discussed,
and if they do what percentage of time a resolution occurs. Do topics
of discussion reach closure, particularly when action needs to be
taken? Pay attention to how you make decisions in the family and how
this process feels to you and other family members.
One team of family researchers at Brown University
describes 7 steps to problem solving:
- Identify the problem
- Communicate with appropriate people about the problem
- Develop a set of possible alternative solutions
- Decide on one of the alternatives
- Carry out action required to guarantee action is
- Moniter to guarantee action is taken
- Evaluate effectiveness of your decision-making
If communication skills are poorly developed, it will
prove difficult to get past the second step of conveying your description
of the problem to someone else. Likewise, unresolved conflict could
be expressed in a miscarriage of action once it is decided (fifth
step). However, if family members gestate a decision through to the
final step of self- reflection, they are more likely to give birth
to a feeling of team spirit, whatever the outcome.
How decisions are made in a family
is often more crucial to positive feelings between family members
than what is decided.
Below is an exercise in listening and empathy,
the first step towards healthy communication.
to: Listening and Empathy