The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Getting by


January 31, 2018

How would you rate your family relations? Not the greatest, could be better or great? Strong communication is the key to good family relations. We have all heard this but what does it really mean? Communication is how we send and receive messages in ways that create understanding between individuals. It is what we say and how we say it.

A majority of our communication is nonverbal—our body language, facial expressions and the tone. Nonverbal communication gives us information about the sender’s mood or intent of the message, it helps to control the conversation such as when the speaker is done talking or how long the conversation should be, and it defines the relationship between the sender and receiver. Facial expressions, eye contact, eye level and posture, if applied attentively, can make for a meaningful conversation.

Verbal communication happens in many forms. Conversations during family mealtime, family stories, car rides, etc, are opportunities to create family cohesion. These opportunities, however, can seem few and far between due to the busy schedules everyone seems to have. Whether intentionally finding time for these moments or, when these moments present themselves, are you really hearing what is being said? On the other side, are you feeling heard by the other person? Many times, we are thinking about how we are going to respond, how it relates to our experience or a completely different subject that we have been waiting all day to say. When these thoughts take over what we should be listening to, we do not really hear the other person.

Here are some tips for improving your communication skills:

1. Be present and listen more during the initial part of the conversation.

2. Paraphrase back to the person what you heard them say so you are sure you understood and they know you understood. Their version of what was said, not yours.

3. Before giving advice, ask if it is wanted. Sometimes, the other person just wants to be heard.

4. Ask open ended questions such as “What was the best part of your day?” Reflecting on what was said, also helps open communication if the other person is being unresponsive. A statement such as “It sounds like your day was frustrating” helps to validate the other person’s feelings and lets them know you are listening. Not saying anything at all can also start a conversation.

5. When talking about a sensitive topic, try using “I” statements while saying how you feel, why you feel that way and what you would like to see happen differently. Example: “I feel unappreciated when I find clothes scattered around the house. I would like the clothes put in the clothes hamper in your room or the bathroom.” This is much less threatening than “You always leave your clothes scattered around the house and you do not care about all I try to do to keep the house neat.”

6. Allow the other person to finish talking before you say anything.

Technology has changed how we communicate with family members. As beneficial as this is, we are unable to assess nonverbal messages. Be mindful of how message may be interpreted and follow up in person whenever possible.

Much of the above information was taken from the “Positive Family Communication” MSU Extension MontGuide available at It also includes additional information.

Follow us on Facebook @ChouteauCountyExtension to keep up to date on what is happening in Chouteau County Extension and 4-H.

Additional information is available by contacting Janell at the Chouteau County Extension Office at 622-3036, or in the Chouteau County Courthouse at 1308 Franklin St in Fort Benton.

Montana State University, US Department of Agriculture and Montana Counties Cooperating. MSU Extension is an equal opportunity/affirmative action provider of educational outreach.


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