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Communication skills help everyone through difficult economic times

Jo Musich, Extension Educator – Family Relations

Published in Dairy Star October 2, 2009

“Healthy self-care does not take place solely within oneself. It involves being connected in meaningful ways with others and to something larger. We are interdependent social beings. We grow and thrive through connections that occur in friendships, family, social groups, nature, recreational activities, spiritual practices, therapy, and a myriad of other ways. There is no formula for self-care. Each of our ‘self-care plans’ will be unique and change over time.” This quote is from Dr. Donna M. Beegle, a highly experienced national public speaker, discussion leader and trainer who has worked and written articles providing insights and strategies for communicating more effectively across race, class, gender and generational barriers for 17 years. She is currently president of Communication Across Barriers, a consulting firm devoted to improving communication and relationships.

If you have established good communication with your family, you are fortunate indeed! If you recognize you could be better at communicating, you are also fortunate. It is a skill that can be learned. Good communication skills help families to share concerns. It also allows them to decide what options are available and what actions to take. Families that have good communication skills can talk things through. This becomes very important when income is not as it was, when there is uncertainty in milk prices, or when other factors cause situations to change. In a larger picture, being able to dialog and build relations with suppliers, credit/banking institutions, and the public are also improved with good communication skills.

Dairy farm families that are living with changing financial circumstances, uncertainty about farm income, or lost value of assets will be wise to include all family members in new decisions that need to be made. Setting priorities and talking about how income will be spent can be based on what is important and what is not important to everyone, considering the immediate goals needed to keep the farm operating. Using a time of economic challenge to clarify family values can become an opportunity built out of necessity. Learning what the immediate needs for your family are in order to survive financially and emotionally is helpful. If you are making equipment or rent payments, cutting back on other expenses to hold onto essentials may be your goal. Meeting the need for food, clothing and shelter puts purchasing other items in perspective. Future goals and decisions may be different than decisions that need to be made in the present. Knowing that it will likely not always be as difficult as now may provide a more hopeful outlook. Having the skills and desire to communicate and make practical decisions that keep all family members in the know and part of solutions makes members feel valued.

Good communication involves active listening and is mutually beneficial. Dr. Beegle states that, “active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. Often when people talk to each other, they don’t listen attentively. They are often distracted, half listening, half thinking about something else.” It may take some practice to give full attention to another. Listening to understand, not only what the other person is saying but being sensitive to the clues of what the other is feeling, is also part of effective communication. When you are actively listening, you understand what the other person is saying and what they mean. You are not thinking about what you want to say, how you feel or, worse yet, ignoring the other.

Humor is also a great tool in family communication. Even during difficult times, take opportunities for play and enjoyment in each other’s company. Laughter has a health and well-being effect. Laughter, besides relieving stress, brings people together. Using more humor and play in your communication can improve the quality of your relationships with family and with others.

Everyone has heard of the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden rule of communication would suggest that you listen to others as well as you wish to be listened to yourself. With your family possessing good communication skills, it will help not only in these difficult changing economic times but is a life-long asset upon which every family member will be able to utilize when needed.

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