Christmas time brings many emotions and with those emotions come different communication styles. In a Blended Family this time of year can seem like a social skill puzzle that needs solving. Reconnecting or trying to make connections for the first time inside your Blended Family can leave everyone a bit confused since people likely have different communication styles they grew-up using in their bio-families. It may be shocking to some to realize that just because a person is accustomed to a specific type of style used in their family system, that doesn’t mean the rest of the world uses that or should use that style.
So, socially speaking, to get along and find some peace, it becomes important to figure out another persons’ communication style. This will help you feel less confused and prepare you to make appropriate behavior choices in reaction to emotions that come up during the holiday get togethers – blended or unblended.
There are four basic types of Communications styles:
- Passive communicators – These are the people that have a hard time speaking up for themselves. They avoid expressing their feelings and emotions, and allow others to infringe on their personal rights. At some point, something will tip the balance and they’ll explode expressing all their pent up resentments at once.
- Aggressive communicators – These communicators express their feelings and needs in a way that disregards the rights of others. Their style of communication is verbally abusive to the person it’s aimed at and yet, as the communicator, they feel they are “just talking.” They become socially isolated because no-one wants to put up with this immature behavior. It’s equal to a 2-year-old tantrum in an adult body. These are people that get their way no matter what the cost to others. They trample on the feelings of everyone around them, ignoring social cues of confused, disgusted and angry facial expressions of their family members and friends. “You owe me!” Is a favorite line. Fun.
- Passive-aggressive communicators – You’ll know your with one when you feel confused and unsure about what’s happening. They act passive on the outside and go along with a situation and then act out verbally or behaviorally toward the person causing their anger (perceived or real) and try to subtly undermine them by causing them discomfort. They are resentful from not being able to fully express themselves. Remember that teen-age relationship where the significant other didn’t want to break up but also didn’t want a label on your relationship anymore? Rather than being verbally straight about breaking up (because then they’d have to feel bad about hurting your feelings) they try to hit the middle ground by backing out just a little and letting you down “easily.” When you’re together you still act like a couple, yet your partner knows their true intentions so they feel free to flirt with others and act single. When you question your partner and say you’re hurt – they say they don’t want to deal with the drama. But if you’re acting like a couple when you’re together (regardless of a label) shouldn’t your partner care about hurting you? Hello passive aggressive.
- Assertive – This is where we all hope to land someday. To be able to express our feelings, opinions and needs respectfully to the other person. Agreeing to disagree is an example. The Netflix series Poldark comes to mind where the town bad-guy is at a Christmas party with all the town good-guys and no one breaks out Jerry Springer style to hit, thrash or name-call but they simply state in different ways how he offends them, and their values, as they give a respectful (but curt) nod of their heads and walk away. Looks simple, but hard to do. Polite decorum has defiantly been lost in American “culture” – if you want to say America has a culture (yet another example of passive-aggressive sarcasm).
The best thing about assertive communication is the communicator handles their own emotions and their own drama. They don’t project it onto others (passive-aggressive), they don’t wallow in self-pity and then explode when it’s too much to handle (passive) and they don’t belittle others or name-call and place blame (aggressive). It’s just pure communication. I feel (insert emotion of choice) when you do (name the behavior) and I need you to (solution focused action). Feelings expressed, disliked behavior explained, and the other person then has a choice on how to respond.
Socially speaking, recognizing another persons communication style can help make life easier over all. It helps maintain a more objective viewpoint (because maybe you are part of the issue), and can help de-escalate potential communication problems if you’re able to figure out the under-lying emotion spurring the discussion. Validating the emotion makes the other person feel understood so they can feel like they’re communicating effectively even if they’re not. This helps to de-escalate their emotions instead of them repeatedly trying to make their point and getting louder and louder.
So, as you’re unwrapping gifts this season – make an effort to notice your emotions and the unspoken emotions of those around you, and un-blend the communication style of your Blended Family. It’s the best gift you’ll give yourself and those around you. (And the magic about communication styles are that they’re changeable, you’re not stuck with a bad gift unless you want to be). Happy Holidays, all holidays, to you, yours, theirs, and ours.