Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Parenting Pointers: Family Dinner Time - Are We Listening?

As we gather for the special events and other times around family dinner tables, we hope to relive happy times, renew relationships and catch up with loved ones. However, there are times when family gatherings bring more than their fair share of challenging moments.

Fortunately, there are some principles of good communication that can help us renew relationships and even make a fresh start with ones that were damaged in the past. As a senior program leader with Landmark, I’ve taught hundreds of thousands of people around the world how to improve their communication skills. In this position and previous ones working to combat AIDS and hunger, I have found language and communication are key to helping people achieve breakthrough results in their lives, relationships and work.

Conversely, miscommunication is at the heart of many of our problems. Our language and our past experiences shape how we experience the world. If you grew up in a household where you heard constant criticism, you might find that you often misinterpret things other people tell you as critical, even when they’re not meant to be.

If you are at the family dinner table and a relative says something that triggers hurt feelings, remember this: What gives you your experience of life or evokes your emotions are not the events in life themselves, but the interpretation your mind attaches to those events.

Here are some tips for using language to heal relationships at family reunions and other gatherings:

  • Practice noticing when you’re upset or irritated. 
  • Work on separating what someone says from your interpretation of what they said.
  • Be generous with the people. Have more attention on others than yourself.  

A key is to understand that the things we say—both out loud and to ourselves—shape our emotions and how we see the world and view others. Clear, effective communication requires us to hear what is really being said, as opposed to what we may add to what is said based on our experiences or our view of life. It is this distinguishing of what’s really been said from what is added that gives us real power.

Remember the way other people treat you now or how they treated you in the past does not determine your self-worth. Distinguish who you are at the core of your being from your experiences, and live in that “domain of being.” Consider also that language can be used not just to describe and discuss the world around us, but also to create new possibilities and relationships.

Most people think they can only tell another person “I love you” if they have all of the emotions and all of the experience of love. But you can also say “I love you” and create the experience and feelings of loving as you say it. Try this the next time you are with your family members, even those you have a difficult time loving. If we consciously use our words in this way, they can be a positive force to help us build better relationships and strengthen our family ties.

About the Author: David Cunningham, M.Ed., is a communication expert and seminar leader for Landmark, a personal and professional growth, training and development company that's had more than 2.2 million people use its programs to cause breakthroughs in their personal lives as well as in their communities, generating more than 100,000 community projects around the world. In The Landmark Forum, Landmark's flagship program, people cause breakthroughs in their performance, communication, relationships and overall satisfaction in life. For more information, please visit

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