Tone important in blended family communication

How blended family conflicts or behavioral issues are addressed has a direct impact on how readily family members are willing to take the steps needed to reach a solution to the problem at hand. As step family leaders, the parents set the tone for blended family meetings and one-on-one discussions; generally, conflict communication can be categorized as assertive, aggressive, or passive. For discussion to be effective, the participants need to feel safe, cared for, and listened to.

Types of conflict communication in your step family

Assertive communication is characterized by statements that describe the feelings, ideas, or concerns of the speaker, rather than a description the ways in which the listener is wrong or what he should and should not be doing. Accordingly, aggressive communication has the effect of setting the listener back on his heels, reacting to criticism, an accusation, a threat or ultimatum. Passive communicators tend not to say what they think or feel, but get angry when their issues are ignored. As you can probably surmise, assertive communication might tend to work best.

Assertiveness talks, hostility walks

Assertiveness means taking responsibility for your own feelings, and not criticizing others. Imagine a scenario in which you would like one of your step children to stop dumping the entire contents of his gym bag on the laundry room floor. An aggressive communicator might complain she is sick of picking up after him, and define him as lazy and inconsiderate. A passive communicator would probably just make a sarcastic remark and then be even more irritated the next time he does it. An assertive communicator could tell her step child how much she appreciates not having to dig into a damp gym bag to find dirty laundry. She might then add that since all step family members are responsible for putting away their own things, she would appreciate his leaving her with just dirty clothes to take care of. When you practice assertiveness, you will experience more effective and enjoyable communications, no matter who they are with. You do not have to be perfect all the time; step parents come no closer to perfection than anyone else. Just take each conversation as it comes, and assertiveness will begin to come naturally to you.

Feedback sandwich

Finding a good way to give feedback on blended family marital issues or ongoing problems with step children, without making the other person defensive can be a challenge, as well. It can help to insert suggestions for improvement or critique between two positive statements.

  • Know exactly what you are going to say before you begin talking.
  • Find something positive to say to begin the conversation, being sure it does not also contain a complaint.
  • Present critical feedback by describing your feelings or observations on the issue at hand without laying blame, and suggest a means to improve the situation, if you have one.
  • Acknowledge the need for continued progress with an enthusiasm that anticipates a successful outcome that will benefit your blended family.

Blended family conflicts do not have to be divisive. With careful thought, mutual respect, and sensitive words, everyone can get their feelings heard, understood, and valued. Blended family meetings are an excellent way to develop skills which support these values, and to practice them in a safe environment.  Think about what your words convey to the people in your blended family, consider how your tone of voice affects your message, and practice assertive communication. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.