Strategies for Good Communication
Try these strategies for improving communication, resolving conflict, and building a supportive family environment.
Get to the Point
Be brief and up-front when you're talking with someone with co-occurring disorders. Long-winded, roundabout statements are hard for anyone to follow, but especially someone who has trouble concentrating-as do many people with mental health disorders and/or substance use disorders. Get to the point quickly to be sure you are heard and understood.
Express Feelings Clearly with "I" Statements
Describe your own feelings and avoid putting others on the defensive. By using words such as "angry," "happy," "upset," or "worried," you can tell your own truth and help prevent the misunderstandings that can occur when people have to guess each other's feelings.
"I" statements, such as "I feel anxious when . . . ," are direct, and they make an impression. When upset feelings are involved, "I" statements work better than blaming "you" statements. For example, instead of saying "You pissed me off when you were late for dinner last night" (a blaming statement), try this: "I was angry when you came home late for dinner last night. I'd appreciate it if you'd be on time or call if you're going to be late."
Speak for Yourself and Not for Others
People often speak for others because they think they know what the other person is feeling. In some families this takes the form of indirect "backchannel communication" (for example, "Your mother is angry with you"). Be alert to these habits and try to change them.
If you are on the receiving end of a backchannel message, you might want to gently question it as well. All of these habits naturally lead to misunderstandings-since each person is truly an expert on only his or her feelings. Such problems can be avoided if everyone is responsible for expressing only their own feelings-nobody else's. This may seem hard at first for family members who are not used to direct communication. But in the long run, it can be helpful to everyone.
Focus on Behaviors Rather Than on Traits
People can change their behavior-what they do-more easily than they can change internal qualities or traits such as personality, attitudes, or feelings. When you are upset with someone's actions, focus your communication on behavior rather than on traits, making it clear what you are upset about. Make it a complete statement, linked to behavior.
Instead of saying: "I'm concerned about your health."
Say: "I'm concerned about your health because you've started drinking again."
Instead of saying: "You're thoughtless because you only think of yourself."
Say: "I sometimes think you don't care about me because you rarely ask about my feelings. I wish you would show more concern by asking how I'm feeling more often."