When the famous baby doctor Benjamin Spock visited Greensboro recently, he spoke, among other things, about values and behaviors in raising our children. One suggestion he made was particularly meaningful to me...speak to your children as though they were your friends. His example: Instead of saying to your kids, "get up here and do the dishes," try, "I'm pretty tired dear, I would appreciate your help with the dishes".
To some, this notion may seem preposterous; to others, ineffective. But consider the results achieved through yelling and commands. When I yell, I may get action but I also get resistance, anger, hostility, and a sore throat. On the other hand, a gentler touch is not always convincing.
The problems of eliciting cooperation are not limited to the parent-child relationship, but echo through my practice on a regular basis. Communication problems are evident when spouses complain, "He won't help me around the house," "He says he'll do it when he's ready...that he's not my slave," and spouses retort, "She won't let me do it when I'm ready; she wants it done right at that moment. She's a nag."
Employers and employees alike complain about the tones of voice used on them at work. Friends and co-workers are sensitive to the least bit of "snap" in one's voice. And even the slightest vocal intonations can tip off a relative that "something is not right."
In short, our voices communicate more than just words. They echo our thoughts, moods, reveal our self-concepts, and reflect our feelings about interpersonal relationships. The tones of our voices may determine the results we get. A timid voice may receive rejection, while an assertive tone may command respect. A sharp word may ruffle feathers and elicit the anger of self-defense. A kindly compliment may be regarded as insincere or may "make a person's day."
There's no doubt that it's awfully difficult to say the right thing with the right tone of voice at the right time to elicit the desired response. Rather, it's incredibly easy to insult a spouse, alienate a friend, offend a co-worker, and ire an employee.
Perhaps what Dr. Spock was trying to convey, is that our children learn how to communicate from us. This includes not only our words, but the tones, volumes, and inflections of our voices. When we speak harshly to them, we not only incur their resentment, but teach them to do the same with others.
Years ago, a common phrase was "do as I say, not as I do." But the fact of the matter is that our children do what they see, hear, and feel, as a direct result of what we do. Perhaps if we speak to them as we like to be spoken to...
ęCopyright 1995, Jane Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated September 26, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon, Ph.D.