#103 | 3 tips to get your family talking

by Feb 19, 2019Uncategorized0 comments

Send me the 10 powerful questions to get my family talking.

Are your questions greeted with a shrug, a mumble or grunt? Do you feel not listened to?

Often tension within families is because of the lack of communication. Did you notice I didn’t say because of the lack of talking? There is a big difference between communication and talking to people. In this episode I unpack communication more, focussing on communication in the family.

In this episode, we are going to cover these tips.  

1. Be curious, not judgemental

2. Implement the 3S’s to get others listening to you more

3. Ask powerful questions

I chose this question because 2 out of 3 of my clients ask how to get the family talking. If you have experienced the shrug and mumble of a teenager, or the one word response of primary aged child – you know exactly what I mean.

Unfortunately most people want to fix the communication issues  when the family is under stress – when there are difficult conversations to be had about behaviour. The challenge with this approach is that the brain is already primed and in threat mode, and threat response is always stronger than reward response.

Research shows that a person needs to hear 7 positive things (reward response) to outweigh the 1 threat response (eg negative feedback).

One way to improve communication is to start creating an everyday ritual when things are going well. That way family members are in a habit of communicating well when things are good.

The other challenge is families are willing to overlook the unhelpful behaviour when it is a marginal issue not interrupted the general flow of day to day. But this builds up. And on the day when the pressure gets too much, the marginal issues can seem to be insurmountable.

Be curious, not judgemental

The first strategy to open up conversation, is to be curious and not judgemental. I can recall a number of parents that had wanted to fix communication issues, and when I heard how they interacted with their children, it was like the Spanish inquisition. Firing off question after question. And the tone! Don’t get me started with talking about tone of voice! Let’s see if I can keep this brief!

Tone and body language really do have a significant part to play in the way that people communicate. If you have been following me for a while, you will know that I love to look at how the brain works and I regularly bump my gums about how, without knowing it, our brain is scanning for threat, including social threat.

And a threat response in the brain is like industrial strength velcro whereas a positive ‘reward’ response is like teflon! The threat response is so much stronger. It lights up many more areas of the brain than a positive response, raises blood pressure, heat rate and other physical signs.

If tension has been building within the family, the family members will automatically be primed for a threat response. Also, if you are asking questions on the back of having a bad day – that bad day may have primed you with an unhelpful tone.

So when entering the conversation, spend some time on reflecting on your own emotional state, and do whatever you can to release tension from your tone.

Being curious is tough, particularly if you have to have a difficult conversation. I remember a time when my client Sally mentioned her sons got in trouble at school. He had been implicated in a online bullying incident of a girl. He refused to talk about it. Sally was fuming. Her communication with the teenager was already lacking, which compounded the issue.

When we were having a coaching conversation, I asked Sally “In your mind, how does this conversation look?” And she launched into telling and lecturing mode, because that is what she has always done. Even as she expressed the conversation to me, the tone was shining through. I then asked “how has that worked for you in the past”. You can guess the answer. It doesn’t.

I then asked, “if you went into this conversation with curiosity, what would your heart tell you to do?”. And the light went on. She finally saw this conversation going a different way.

The next day, Sally was eager to give me an update. As it turned out, the son didn’t have a direct involvement on this, but he didn’t want to talk about it, because his best friend was the offender. And he didn’t want to get the friend in more trouble. She was then able to have an open conversation with her son about the incident from the girl’s perspective.

Implement the 3 S’s that will get others listening

In episode 101, I covered the 3 S’s to get others listening to you more. I actually feel you need to address these 3 S’s in reverse order.

Space and time

Make sure you are setting yourself up for success. Put a ritual in place that is different to what you are doing now. Shake it up to signal something different is going to happen.

  • If you don’t eat at a regular time, at the dinner table together, then start doing this.
  • If kids are bringing the devices to the table, create a new rule – no devices at the table.
  • If the TV or computer games are always on in the background – set time aside to be TV or computer free.
  • Experiment a little to find out what works for your family. You don’t have to implement these all at once, or everyday – just pick one day of the week, and expand from there.

Sound and silence

When there is conflict, there is often silence. Restraining yourself from filling up the silence is difficult. I find it more difficult when there is harmony. I am an extrovert – I talk to think. Sometimes my hubby just wants some quiet. He thinks then talks! We are complete opposites. Then add in the kids, and it becomes overwhelming sometimes. It is good for there to be silence sometimes. Some people need that silence to decompress after a stressful day. For me, I need to talk to decompress.

Being aware of how your family members like to decompress, can help significantly in streamlining communications. Some people rather retreat for a while to think through the day, others like to talk it out.

We often also get caught up in the daily grind, and bad habits organically form, such as always having the TV on in the background. My mind boggles when I go visit others and the TV is left on. Sometimes it becomes so ingrained in the way that we function on a day to day basis, that we don’t even notice these distractions around us.

Taking time out to notice the noise around you, and making a conscious decision on times where these distractions are limited can really make a difference to your environment.

Simple and specific

Often when families do engage in more conversation, rapid fire question stacking creeps in. How was your day? Did you enjoy your lunch? What did you buy for lunch? What subjects did you cover, etc etc.

Questions trigger Instinctive elaboration in the brain. What happens is the question takes over the brains thought process. This means the person can think of nothing more, because we can only process one idea at a time. When you question stack, it creates chaos – the brain wants to now answer the new question. And because our brain likes order, what ends up happening – no question is answered or worse still – emotions escalate.

Likewise, when a family member is sharing an idea, keep to the same topic – if you introduce a seemingly unrelated question, it can be a conversation staller, because that instinctive elaboration has been triggered and the person will loose their train of thought.

Ask powerful questions

Questions that ask others to offer an opinion increases neural activity in the areas of the brain that are related to reward and pleasure. Which also means it activates the feel good chemicals in your brain.

So instead of just asking ‘how was your day?’, add questions like ‘what did you like best about your day?’,  ‘What can improve your day tomorrow?’.

Download my free resource 10 powerful questions to get the family talking.

In this episode, we are going to cover these tips.  

1. Be curious, not judgemental

2. Implement the 3S’s to get others listening to you more

3. Ask powerful questions


Stay tuned for the episodes coming up:

#104 | How to not freak out when speaking to your boss