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Posts Tagged ‘family interactions’

Natasha was flipping through a magazine in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. She stumbled upon an article that dealt with family relationships. As she skimmed through the main points of the article, she could not help but think of her own family relationships. The more she thought the more proud she felt of the open lines of communication that existed between her and her husband, Dev. The two of them could happily spend hours in each other’s company and even after ten years of marriage, there was freshness in their relationship. They were each other’s best friends in the true sense of the word. Each felt inspired by the other. Natasha wished Dev was with her as she waited for the dentist to call her. She had seen him not long ago. In fact, it was only that morning, when he left for work.  And yet, there was so much she needed to tell him, so much she wanted to talk about. Time always fell short for them.

Dev was about to leave work. As he was wrapping things up, he was thinking about all the interesting things that he had encountered that day. He could not wait to tell Natasha. Suddenly he remembered that Natasha was going to be at the dentist’s and might arrive late. He decided he would go meet her there. They could both then walk leisurely to the bank nearby, where Dev had some work, and then stroll home, chatting.

Natasha’s wait for the dentist was finally over. She was called in. It took about an hour for the dentist to relieve her of her tooth-concerns. Stretching herself, she walked out of the clinic into the waiting area. To her immense joy, Dev was sitting there waiting for her! She gave him a big smile and asked him how long he had been waiting. He looked at her and said with a frown, “Well, it has been about an hour. I am getting late to go to the bank because of you.” Natasha was taken aback by the response, but said nothing.

The couple started walking to the bank. Dev seemed to be in a hurry while Natasha was following him in silence. When they reached the bank, Natasha was very quiet. Dev asked her what was wrong. She said, “When I saw you, it was as if my wish just came true. I had no idea that you were planning to be there. Seeing you made me really happy. But, the first thing you said to me was that you were late because of me. You blamed me for something that I had never even intended to do. Is that why you came— to tell me how I was at fault for your day going wrong?”

“No,” said Dev. “I came so we could spend some time together.”

“Oh Dev, you know that I want nothing more than that either.”

“Well then, what is stopping us?”

“I think it is your words, Dev. Your words are betraying your feelings.”

Dev fell silent. He started thinking about how his mind was so occupied in looking at the time that he could not convey his true emotions when he saw Natasha. He held her hand in his palm and said, “Natasha, I wish I knew what was going on in your head at that moment. I would never have hurt you.”

As they both sat there hand in hand, they realized something powerful. Despite all the love they had for each other, they could still not read each other’s minds. While love can make life beautiful and smooth, yet, there will always be a limitation to human love— the limitation of communication. It is important to say what you feel. It is equally important to carefully select your words when you talk.

Sometimes, when we feel comfortable in a relationship, we start taking the other person for granted. We assume that he or she knows what we are trying to say. We forget that we have to actually say what we are trying to say. Often, people don’t take the time to say things that they are feeling or that they really do want to say. Even Natasha and Dev, who were accustomed to each other and enjoyed each other’s company, were carried away in a gust of improper communication. Thankfully, they found their way back. Not everyone can.

*****communication

Words are powerful. Just a few words are enough to turn around an entire outlook, an entire situation. The blame that Dev unknowingly inflicted on Natasha with his first words, “I am getting late to go to the bank because of you” instantaneously dissolved all the feelings of love that both of them harboured for each other. With all our good intentions, our ship can sink. A beautiful day can turn unpleasant.

          We urge you to take a few minutes and think of how the use of alternative words could have made the day as beautiful as it was intended to be? Think of how simple gestures and non-verbal communication like smiling, reading the body language and responding with a touch, a caress or a gentle nod can lead even unpleasant situations to pleasant conclusions.

          As we do this, let us also ponder over how just a few words, spoken thoughtlessly, have led to issues in our own lives— some big issues and some little, everyday issues. We are all intelligent people with wonderful brains. While we are sensible enough to know the right thing that should be said, are we sensitive enough to say it?

~ Nivedita and Prashant Shori

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Expressing Emotions

In the words of an American Nature photographer, Ansel Adams, All should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”

        Some would say that we are what we feel. Our emotions are reflective of our personalities and our character. However, emotions are like a complex web. A lot of our own emotions are intermingled together and it becomes difficult to understand them. Due to this, it becomes all the more difficult to express them. While reading a book on Interpersonal Communication titled Everyday Encounters (authored by Julia Wood and Anne Schweitzer), I came across some reasons that prevent us from expressing our emotions, especially in a socially pressurizing world:

Speaking in generalities is the first mistake we make in expressing our emotions. This refers to making very general and abstract statements about what we are feeling. We sometimes use vague words like ‘bad’ or ‘upset’. We fail to define ‘how’, ‘why’ and to ‘what level’ we are feeling this emotion.

            I still remember when this generality created a big confusion between me and my wife. Once I was working on a project and was sitting on my laptop almost for the whole day. In the evening I suddenly got up from the computer and said, “Yeah!! I am happy now”. Next morning I saw my wife getting ready to go out. I was surprised as I recalled that we had already decided to cancel this plan to go out due to my project. I asked her why she was getting ready. She said, “Didn’t you express happiness yesterday evening after finishing your project? So now that you have finished it, obviously we should keep our original plan and go out”. It took me a few seconds to understand what she meant. Then I realized my mistake. I explained to her that actually the statement  “I am happy” was made because I got an extension of half a day to submit my project and it is now due tonight instead of in the morning. I told her that I still have a lot to do to finish it and the expression of happiness yesterday had nothing to do with the completion of the project. This was a great learning experience for me that taught me not to make broad general statements that could be misunderstood. I needed to be specific.

Not taking responsibility for what we are feeling and expressing, but blaming others instead leads to flawed expression. This attribute makes people ineffective and destructive in relationships as parents, partners or even friends. Some people lay responsibility on other people while expressing their emotions, for instance, “You are driving me crazy”. By saying so, they are blaming the other person for how they themselves are feeling. If they took responsibility for their emotion, they would be more specific and help themselves and the other person to solve the problematic issue. For instance, the above statement of “You are driving me crazy” does not need the word “You” at all. Pinpoint the exact issue and express your problem clearly: “The high volume of your music system is hurting my ears and it is making me go crazy”. By stating this, by communicating correctly, the person is not transferring the blame on another person, but is rather projecting him as a helper. By communicating clearly, we are able to easily find a solution to the problem we are facing, in this case lowering the volume, for instance.

Using counterfeit language is another reason for lack of effective expression of emotions. This is when a person says or does something due to a certain feeling but does not actually describe what he is feeling. This expression is depicted in the form of agitated verbal and body language. This kind of miscommunication is more common in youngsters. It reminds me of a very funny incident that happened a long time back. My aunt came from India to visit her daughter in Canada. Her teenaged grandson got attached to her in no time. One day when her daughter came home from work she noticed that her mom was very sad. When asked she said, “Your son told me to go back and leave the house”. Her daughter started laughing and said, “I am sure he did not mean it.” She asked the little boy. He told his mom, “Granny was telling me again and again not to watch T.V. which made me upset and so I said that. But I like Granny a lot. Please don’t let her go away.”  Her mother smiled and said, “Honey, you should have said what you meant. You should have told Granny that you really want to watch your show and that you are feeling upset that she is not letting you watch it and is suggesting the same thing over and over again.” Thus, using language that counterfeits the meaning of what you want to say, can be damaging.

            We need to understand the right way to express our emotions. On the other hand, some people think that expressing themselves and talking about things that affect them does not change anything around them. This is not true. Our perceptions change because of how we feel. Expressing those feelings in the right way is equally important. By expressing our emotions, we connect with the world. It also relieves us in many unknown ways. Venting our feelings in the right way helps us take care of ourselves and of others, especially our immediate family and friends, in a better way.

~ Prashant Shori

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Effective communication is the key to establish good relationships and good relationships are the key to a healthy lifestyle.

About effective communication, some scholars say that it is an art and others say it is a skill. In a course that I took on effective communication, I realized that it is not as simple as I thought it to be. Often our style of communication becomes a habit hard to break. At the same time we find that if we are not communicating effectively, it is likely, if not surely, to affect our life adversely.

Effective communication is clear and concise while ineffective communication is vague and could lead to misunderstandings. An important finding which I had during studying this subject indicates that most of the time, we can avoid misunderstandings that arise out of ineffective communication. Mahatma Gandhi’s words come to mind, “pehle tolo fir bolo” (in Hindi), that is, “weigh your words before spilling them out”. Although this statement appears quite simple, we usually do not understand it. Often, we fail to coordinate between what we think and what we say – or between what we mean and what we say. This mismatching usually becomes the reason behind many conflicts we face in our relationship and in our family.  

Let me clarify it with an example. Last week I called my wife from my college. She was not at home. I left a message. The exact words which I used in the message were, “I will come home late tonight as I have a group meeting. If you come late or if you’re busy with your work or coursework assignments, do not bother preparing dinner. We will ‘manage’ something when I am back.”

When I reached home at around 8 o’clock, I was tired and hungry. My wife was busy at her laptop. After peeking into the empty pans in the kitchen, I approached her with some anger and asked about dinner. She looked at me with surprise and said, “You had left me a message asking not to worry about dinner. That is why I started working on my assignment right after getting home.”

I responded with, “But still…” Before I could complete the sentence, she replayed the voice-message to avoid further argument.

After listening to the message I clearly understood where the problem was. The problem was that I had conveyed something which I did not really mean. I had not expressed my true intention. When I had left the message, I had intended to say, “Try to make something for dinner and if you’re late or busy, prepare something which takes less time”. But, I had left the message without coordinating my intention and expression.

 Similarly, many times parents say things to their children which they do not really mean. When children ask for permission to go to a trip with their classmates or ask for an expensive object like an ‘I-pad’, parents usually do not answer right away. To avoid on-the-spot arguments, they either say that they are busy at the moment or they will think about it.

Children often assume that if you have not said ‘No’, then it is alright for them to keep dreaming on. Their wish gets cemented in their mind. Once it is fully established, it hurts even more to see it shatter.

On the other hand, the parents actually do not mean what they say. They try to postpone the matter and that too by using a communication style that is ambiguous. When ultimately, children feel that they are not getting the necessary response, they get upset. In their place, the children are right to get upset because in their minds, the previous response of their parents was positive, giving them the hope that their wish could be fulfilled. 

So, instead of these vague answers, parents could give their children a concrete answer backing it up with their logic. If children do not understand their reasoning, parents need to have deeper conversations with their children in order to bridge the gap between their own and their children’s thinking.  

 Unthoughtful communication or ineffective communication can either be intentional (when we purposely want to give a false impression) or unintentional (when we are unaware of how we are communicating). Whatever the reason, this kind of misleading communication always leads to confusion at both ends. Frustration arises and ultimately conflict begins.

If we think we can say anything and get away with it, we are mistaken because the effect of our words stays with other people. Life is too short to keep clarifying misunderstandings that arise as a result of our communication. So, it becomes very important to say what we really mean. Words cannot be taken back, so they should be spoken carefully. That is the key to effective communication. It plays an important role in establishing and maintaining agreeable interactions, which ultimately culminate in keeping the atmosphere congenial.

~ Prashant Shori

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In your conversations with others, do you often perceive personal attacks, criticism and hurtful undertones? If so, then consider evaluating not only the speaker, but also you yourself – the listener. You might have turned into a defensive listener. A defensive listener often assumes that others are passing negative judgements to offend him. At some point or the other, we all experience it. Sometimes due to personal circumstances, and in some cases due to our attitude in general, we become very defensive in listening and suffer just for our own complexes.

I remember I once went out to do groceries in a pair of brightly coloured pants. That day, whenever someone looked at me, I thought that they were making fun of me; when I saw someone whispering something is someone’s ear, I thought they were talking about me and whenever someone smiled, I murmured to myself, “Well, I know why you are doing so!” Incidentally, I ran into an acquaintance in the store. Right after we greeted each other, I started explaining that I was wearing those pants because I came out of the house in a rush and that it was a day-off from work, so I was not dressed well and so on. She just looked down at my pants and said, “Oh, I hadn’t even noticed. Why! They’re nice!” I heaved a sigh of relief and realized that it was me who was interpreting messages wrongly.

Defensive listening is an extension of this perception. When others are talking to us, our personal situation sometimes makes us think that they are implying something negative through their words. For instance, Dina has not received good marks at school. Later that day, when her mother looks at Dina working in the kitchen, she says, “Maybe you could use some of my help”. Dina immediately becomes defensive. She thinks that mom considers her incapable of working independently. She shouts, “You think I cannot perform well anywhere? You think I don’t know anything?” Instantly, the family atmosphere gets polluted. Dina runs back to her room feeling hurt and angry. Mom gets shocked. Other members of the family feel bewildered. They think that it would be best to avoid all conversation at this time. Not only this, Dina has now lost an important chance to spend time with her mother or to learn from her, just because of getting defensive and assuming negative intentions of her own mother. What a disaster!

For some people, defensive listening is just an attitude that has become a part of their lifestyle. These people ‘see’ threats and ‘hear’ insults in all conversations. They forever fish for an opportunity to perceive disrespect and hostility. Even something said innocently becomes a problem for them. When we converse with them, it starts to sound more like an argument than a conversation, because these people take all remarks as personal attacks. They feel that others are pointing fingers at them. Instead of trying to understand the speaker’s point of view, they immediately start defending themselves and turn the conversation into a heated debate. Signs of hostility and ill-will appear in the environment. Bit by bit, people start avoiding the company of such people – the defensive listeners.

Listening is an art. Defensive listening makes it hard to communicate well and can lead to misunderstandings and tense relationships. Giving some conscious thought to how we listen can really help us become effective listeners. Effective listening is the cornerstone of effective communication and of pleasant and meaningful interactions in the family, in the workplace and in all our worldly encounters.

~ Nivedita Shori

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Jay’s father taught him many lessons of life. He thought that moral education is something that kids should learn at a very early age. At school, when Jay read the story with the moral, ‘Honesty is the best policy’, he came home and asked his dad what it really meant. His dad explained that it means that you should always be truthful. It always ends up making you happier in the end. Jay listened carefully as his father said, “Sometimes it is hard to be honest, because you get greedy or think that you will get in trouble by being honest. You just want to take the easy route of lying and putting the matter to an end. However, it never works out. It never gives you peace. It also usually gets you in more trouble than the trouble caused by being honest. So remember Jay, when you feel like you cannot face the truth, try it and you will feel a lot better. Even if it will give you some hard time for a little while, it will make you a very happy man for the rest of your life.”

The little boy thought about it. He thought of the time he had lied to his mother when she had asked if he got any homework. And his dad is right – the small lie did not let him sleep peacefully that night. He also did not do very well on the test at school the next day, because he hadn’t done his homework. It would have been so much better if he had been honest in the very first place. He decided he was going to give honesty a try.

For several years, Jay practised following truthful behaviour. When his teachers asked him why he wasn’t able to complete his assignment on time, he spoke the truth and said he did not understand it, instead of saying that he was sick or that he had to go somewhere with his parents. As a result, his teacher gave him extra assistance, which made him feel good and helped him learn better. He started to do really well at school and was able to score high enough to get admission in a good Senior School that would help him prepare for his entrance examination to for Architecture – his dream since childhood.

His honesty became a good influence for his friends. In the beginning, when Jay used to tell them that he cannot lie to his parents about skipping class that day, they used to make fun of him. But they soon saw how relaxed Jay was compared to them. He did not have to hide anything from anyone. He was not stressed about anything and could easily concentrate on anything. Moreover they saw that teachers liked and helped Jay with his work. So, his friends stopped making fun of him and instead started admiring him, some openly and others secretly.

His family was really proud of him. Their son was setting a good example for his little sister to follow. Even when he made a mistake, Jay was quick enough to admit and apologize. That created an atmosphere of togetherness in the family. His parents trusted him and shared some of their ideas and opinions with him as they saw that being honest, he was a responsible child.

After finishing Senior School, Jay sat for his entrance test. He thought he did fine, but had to wait patiently for the results. A few days later the results were announced. Jay’s score was good, but not good enough to get him into one of the most prestigious Universities of the region – where he was hoping to go. His parents, who loved him a lot, saw his disappointment and were slightly disturbed as well.

The next day, at work, Jay’s father was approached by a man who had heard about his son’s test scores. He said, “I have a contact at the University your son wants to go to. Since his marks are not too far below, they might accept him, if you arrange for some cash to go under the table.” The man was asking for a bribe! Jay’s father’s instant reaction was to shout at this man for even thinking about such a thing.

But on second thought, he walked away and started thinking. If he accepted this offer now, he could fulfill his child’s dream! Not only that, it would be a matter of pride for the entire family to have their son studying in such a reputable institute. His eyes would glow with brightness when he would mention Jay in front of his relatives and acquaintances. Maybe he should consider this deal.

When he went home that evening, he was very pensive. His mind was occupied in making an important decision about the life of his son. Sensing his tension at the dinner table, his family asked him what he was worried about. For a moment he was quiet but then he decided to share his dilemma. As soon as he presented the problem to them, Jay opened his mouth to say something. “There you go”, his dad thought, “He is so excited to hear about this. I think I should do this.” But Jay was saying something totally different! To his dad’s great astonishment, Jay said, “Dad do you remember what you had told me once? You had said that even if honesty will give you some hard time for a little while, it will make you a very happy man for the rest of your life. I will be happier if my conscience is clean Dad. And I know that you will be too.”

Jay’s mother and father had tears of joy in their eyes! Dad had learnt a lesson from his young son today. He knew that his upbringing had been successful. The little offshoot he had been nurturing all these years was now a hale and hearty young tree that was ready to bear fruit of the very best quality!

~ Miles To Go…

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A major issue affecting household harmony these days is ego-clash. The word ‘Ego’ has started becoming more and more common. The dictionary defines it as “the ‘I’ or self of any person”. A family is not about ‘I’ however. It is about ‘us’. With people’s lifestyles becoming more self-centred, this concept of togetherness gets shaken. This leads to a lot of power struggles – evident or hidden.

We often hear about disagreements between parents and children, between couples or between siblings due to ego. The clash begins with any one member not accepting the thoughts, opinions or sometimes even the dignity of another member.

People say that we don’t get along because our egos come in the way. It has to be remembered that ego is a developed practice. It is not something that just happens! It is not inherited; nor is it a birth defect. Ego gets cultivated unconsciously over a period of time. It is a gradual process but once developed it becomes a habit hard to shake off.

Like all habits, an unhealthy dominant ego also starts with attitude. If one is conscious of the problem when it occurs and controls one’s thoughts through rational, spiritual and mindful thinking, the battle is won even before being declared. But more often than not, we let our unhealthy thoughts govern our behaviour. We unmindfully nurture and cultivate them to the extent that they start creating havoc for us.

A lot of times, ego surfaces when we wish that the other person should not ‘win’. Even casual conversations become arguments and life a battlefield. For an egoistic person everything is an attack on his self esteem. For him it becomes hard to nod in agreement and he starts leading a pretentious life. A lot of relationships are spoiled, friendships are lost, family ties are severed. Once egoism becomes a habit, it is hard to go back. Damage continues. Emotions or sensitivities hold no place in life. Selfishness ensues!

The following could be some symptoms of egoism and some pointers on what you can do about it :

  • A family member proposes something and you find yourself thinking, “If we do this, people will consider him or her to be wiser than me.” Time to reflect! A family is where every one appreciates each other’s wisdom and qualities.
  • A friend points out a flaw in you, and you get angry and think, “So he considers himself superior?” Time to reflect! Just focus on what you have been told and see if it is worth considering. Don’t jump into an argument right away.
  • A child expresses his thoughts about something and you start to correct him instantly. Time to reflect! Think about the little person’s perspective. You might be more experienced but that does not give you the right to snub someone. Instead you should lovingly discuss the issue.
  • Someone disagrees with you and your temper flares up and your voice becomes louder. Time to reflect! You do not have the right to control others’ decisions and thoughts. Each and every individual has the right and independence to express how and what he feels.
  • You get the impression that every one is targeting and questioning you and your beliefs. Time to reflect! You might be under the impression that you are being attacked even when the speaker is talking very generally. This is a characteristic of a developing ego.

Families perform the role of support networks for all members. Egos become a big problem in the fulfilment of this role. With egoism everyone starts to think only about himself. It becomes a barrier to a happy life. It is a habit that should not be nurtured in oneself and not be encouraged in the family. We need to be aware of our egoistic attitude and have the willingness to negate it with positive vibrations. Healthy family interactions begin with healthy attitudes.

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