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Five ways to better family conversations

Psychologist Sarah Rozenthuler offers her advice on how to have better family conversations, and generally get on better with our families

by Ali Roff

improve conversations with family

1. Name it. Sometimes it’s enough to flag up to the family member that you understand where they’re coming from. So you might say to your mother ‘I understand that you’re making these comments about my outfit because you only want me to look my best. But your idea of ‘best’ and mine aren’t the same.’ Sometimes just doing that is all it takes to shift a deeply-rooted pattern.

2. Engage with it. Ask the person a question about the issue rather than reacting or asserting yourself. ‘So I’m curious, why are you so interested in how much I spend on groceries a week? Is it really that interesting to you that I choose to shop at the organic deli?’ It’s about interrupting your own reactive pattern rather than focusing on their answers.

3. Bypass it. Sometimes the best and wisest course of action is to completely ignore the issue or barb that’s come up, at least for that moment. It’s not always the right time.

4. Choose your moment. If it’s a difficult conversation, select the venue carefully. It’s best to go somewhere neutral, take the person out for tea rather than meeting at home. You’ll be more relaxed. If it’s a joint family discussion, think carefully about who needs to be there for the initial talk. You might want to be strategic about leaving in-laws and partners out of it.

5. Watch your words. Be aware that certain words are going to be more highly charged in families – words such as ‘always’ or ‘never’ should be avoided if possible. The words we choose and the tone of voice we adopt make a big difference.

More inspiration:

See Psychologies editor Suzy Greaves interview author and psychologist Sarah Rozenthuler on how to listen so we really hear and talk so we're really heard on LifeLabs

Photograph: iStock