Despite their warm relationships, the families had absolutely no clue what was going on in their each others’ heads in the moment. When asked, the families were wrong about what the spouse or kid was thinking, 76 percent of the time. And these weren’t subtle degrees of difference. A third of the time, the family members weren’t even on the same topic. Only 7 percent of the families were reliably accurate in understanding each others’ points of views─and those families were still right only half of the time.
The kids readily admitted that they were often lost as to what their parents were thinking. The parents, on the other hand, were certain that they knew what was on the others’ minds.
On the whole, adolescents believe their parents are being controlling, more than the parents intend to be. Parents expect that adolescents will be hostile and rebellious to authority, so they overassume that their adolescents are being negative; they read negative intent in adolescents’ ambiguous statements. They don’t believe that kids are accepting responsibility for their mistakes. And as between the parents, they overestimate how much their spouses agree with them, and underestimate the others’ differing points of view.
While this data may appear grim, Sillars is actually very hopeful about his data. Sillars believes that, as long as there’s communication, it’s inevitable that some of it will result in miscommunication. Still, the families’ miscommunication─even as high as it was─wasn’t derailing their overall relationships. The families in his study still had good times together; they still thought of each other very positively.
Sillars also cautions that the way out of miscommunication isn’t simply more conversation. That would be the all-too-easy fix. However, “Contrary to intuition, explicit disclosure does not necessarily lead to greater understanding,” explained Sillars.
In fact, the more the mom or kid said about what a kid was doing, the less a father was able to understand what they were talking about. So volume─be it the loudness or the amount of speech─isn’t the answer.
The main lesson from Sillars is that if what people want to increase understanding between family members,they need to set aside their expectations─both about the person they’re talking to, and for how a conversation will go. They need to be a little less focused on what they are going to say, and more be willing to listen; and they need to be a little less sure that they already know the other person’s point of view.
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