What Is Family Communication?

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When you hear the term family communication what do you think of? A happy family laughing together at dinner? A fight with your brother or sister? A visit with your grandmother? Family communication is all of these. Understanding the function of communication within your family helps you avoid conflict and maintain good relations.


In "Building Family Strengths: Communications," Brenda Thames and Deborah Thomason define family communication as "more than just the exchange of words between family members." It is not just the words we speak but also "components like facial expressions, body language, tone of speech and posture." Family communication, then, is sharing information with verbal and nonverbal cues. Thames and Thomason maintain that listening is as important as communication because listening allows you to understand the family member's point of view.


Rick Peterson and Stephen Green, in an article for the Virginia Cooperative Extension's "Families First" series, maintains that family communication can be divided into two areas, Instrumental and Affective. Instrumental communication is the "exchange of factual information that enables individuals to fulfill common family functions," such as telling your children what time dinner is served. Affective communication "refers to how family members share their emotions" such as anger or happiness with one another. Some family members might successfully communicate in one area but not the other.


There are some misconceptions about the definition of a family. Families are defined as "individuals who are related biologically, legally, or through marriage-like commitments and who nurture and control each other," according to Beth A. Le Poire in "Family Communication." Family is no longer considered the traditional father-mother-child context, because the American household is complex. It includes one-parent households, two people raising children together, step families and extended families.


Certain conflicts can arise when family communication barriers exists. For instance, compromise is imperative in families. Each family member's needs cannot be met all the time. This means that you have to make compromises to meet the needs of others. Remember that compromising does not mean that you've lost and another family member has won, but that you have created a new solution. You should also build good communication skills within the family unit, such as listening to a family member and repeating back what you heard.


Peterson and Green offer strategies that build effective family communication. The first is to communicate frequently. Plan regular family meetings because "it is extremely important for families to make time to communicate." Another strategy is to communicate clearly and directly to avoid conflict. A third strategy is to become an active listener, which "involves acknowledging and respecting the other person's point of view." Make an effort to understand your family member's point of view.