Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW
Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW

During an initial therapy evaluation, much of the time is spent identifying what brings a person, parents, a couple, or a family to my office to discuss their concerns. In addition to reviewing what the current issues and symptoms are, we discuss treatment goals and very often I hear that people are interested in learning more effective methods of communicating. I discover that people struggle with delivering a message that consistently says what they mean to say, often saying, “But, they misunderstood me.” Or, “They should know that is not what I intended to say.”

Words are a powerful tool and the way we deliver them can add to the power of their impact. Words can be useful, informative, and purposeful when thoughtfully selected, but they can also be hurtful and wounding, even toxic when used in a thoughtless and reckless way. Words combined with behaviors create our communication. Many of us can remember something that was spoken to us that has been life altering and it plays over and over again in our minds like an old tape stuck on rewind when triggered. An example might be the person who fears making a mistake who is reminded of the sarcastic remark that a family member made when she was a child at a family gathering when she brought the woman tea instead of the lemonade she had asked for, “But, I thought your grandmother said you were capable of being responsible. Apparently not!” As a child she was totally humiliated and she continues to be humiliated and shamed each time she thinks about it, as if it is just happening. Another more positive example might be the person who recalls being told, “Yes, it may be difficult, but I believe in you. I believe you can handle it.” Those words of encouragement at just the right time were very inspiring and continue to be reassuring to the person who heard them. By a single comment, one person thinks of himself as incapable of truly being responsible, and another person thinks of himself as being able to conquer most anything. Words do indeed have power.

Communication can promote connectedness and it can promote disconnection. Communication can promote hurt and communication can promote healing in relationships. Communication must promote an exchange of information, but it is sometimes less than adequate. The goal, of course, is for communication to be direct, operational, purposeful, clear, and meaningful.

People asking for assistance in my office for improvements with communication have been facing multiple challenges impacting the adequacy of the communication and they recognize that there are negative impacts, but they are just unsure what to do to help themselves or their relationships. It is helpful to have a therapist to be the objective party, to assist with identifying exactly what the intended message is, to identify what words and what body language would be most effective to deliver clear and consistent messages, and to determine what words and body language might be getting in the way and interfering with adequate and assertive communication.

It is helpful to know the supremacy of words and to be intentional with your use of every word, knowing that every word, every tone and associated attitude/behavior creates meaning. A simple example is a greeting used at the beginning and the end of the day. Notice how your day might start if your son says, “Good morning! I hope today goes well for you!” And, notice the beginning of the same day if your son offers a greeting without words of support and only grunts and nods his head in response to you saying, “Good morning,” to your son. Also, imagine the connectedness of greeting your wife at the end of a day with a statement, “I am so glad to be home!” upon entering your home versus the lack of connectedness when simply coming home and tossing your things on the kitchen table and heading straight to the bedroom to change clothes.

Communication involves the use of words, and behaviors including, but not limited to silence, and listening. Of course, there are effective and ineffective methods of using words, and behaviors including, but not limited to silence, and listening in order to communicate. Seeking guidance and coaching through therapy is one way to learn communication skills for multiple relationships and for use in various environments. Contact therapists at Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC at 919-292-1464 for further evaluation if communication issues are impacting interpersonal relationship dynamics for you and important persons in your life.