Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Positive Family Communications

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

I was out of the office much of last week on a family emergency as my dad had some riskier heart procedures done.  My mom and all my brothers were together for a couple days leading up to the surgery and then I spent a couple additional days with mom as dad began the recovery process.  This whole experience has made it very clear to me that we as a family hadn’t been communicating nearly as often or as well as we could be.  So, this week, let’s talk about positive family communications.  This applies more to families with grown children this week and gives some different examples.

First, let’s look at what is termed the “wheel network.”  Some families have one person who is the center of communication.  Often this is the mother however it can be any central family member who is viewed as the “center” of family communication.  This network looks like a wheel.  Communication lines go from the person at the center to each family member.  The mother controls the messages and can adapt them as needed with each family member.  I used this last week to get information out about my Dad’s condition while I was at the hospital.
There is also a “chain network.”  Other families may use a style that resembles a long chain.  Here one person is in charge at the top giving messages to the next person down the line.  This person then gives it to the next person down and so on.  In busy families, this type of communication may be needed.  The problem is it is very “top down.” Only the second person in the chain hears the complete message.  This could be similar to playing the game “telephone” that many of us may have played in grade school.

Many stepfamilies use a “Y” type communication.  The children are at the top of the “Y” and the biological parent in the middle.  The stepparent is at the bottom of the “Y.”  Messages to the children are given through the biological parent.  This network may be useful as the members work to become a new family. 
Messages in all these networks discussed previously are filtered through one person.  Sometimes this is needed.  It may help reduce family conflict.  The problem is that it could also produce misunderstandings.  The person who sent the message does not talk directly to all those who receive it.

A fourth network style is the “all-channel” network.  In this setting, each family member talks directly with each other.  There is no filtering of information.  This style is used more when children are older.  The information does not get distorted with this style; however, it is not as effective when information needs to get to everyone quickly.

Technology has changed how we communicate with family members.  Families with good communication use a mix of communication networks.  That is because each type of network can be useful in a specific situation.  What is important is that all family members have an opportunity to be heard and to be included.

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