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What Boomers Can Learn About Communication From Politics

Feb 15, 2008
In BOOM!, Tom Brokaw suggests that the 2008 Presidential race may very well echo the election of 1968, with its strong focus on the anti-war movement. Right now, with the Iowa caucus right around the corner, the political stakes are high. The war in Iraq - on the tip of political tongues - generates polarized opinions and sparks regular hard-edged exchanges.

Accusations between the candidates proliferate - from liberals who espouse a smaller carbon footprint yet fly in private airplanes to conservatives who shield illegal immigrants in one way or another while in support of immigration control. Both Democrats and Republicans feel free to pull punches and none of the leading contenders are spared. Whether it's a smoke screen for campaign gaffes or talking points under the guise of humor, these often don't seem funny.

But our concern here is more personal to you - card carrying members of the Sandwich Generation - squeezed between children growing up and parents growing older. What lessons can you learn from this political campaign about communication with your family in flux?

We all know that words can hurt and an offhand remark or slip of the tongue can be emotionally damaging. If the World War II motto, "loose lips sink ships," has you suffering from the foot-in-mouth syndrome, add the following to your communication strategies:

1. When addressing a sensitive subject, right off the bat, state a specific goal that you want to accomplish. Be very direct and clear in what you have to say. Don't be side-tracked by pointing out your partner's past oppositional behavior or questionable character traits.

2. As body language and tone of voice really matter, assume a non-threatening stance in a conflict with your teenager. Calibrate your emotions, monitor the negatives and be very slow to criticize. Take some responsibility for the situation by using "I-focused" statements to clarify that what you're saying is your personal opinion.

3. Listen closely to the response without planning a rebuttal. Be empathic to another viewpoint and ask questions for greater understanding of their position. Try to step outside of your own shoes and look at the issue from a perspective that may be quite different from your own.

4. Sometimes you really do know what's best. So take a stand and hold your ground when the safety or well being of your elderly parents is at stake. Be patient as they grow to appreciate your position and accept the necessary changes in their lives, even if it's unpopular at the present time.

5. In a conflict that is escalating, count slowly to 10 before reacting. If it looks like the discussion could raise your blood pressure or turn into an argument, walk away. Before saying something you may later regret, take some time to calm yourself down - walk around the block or breathe deep several times. But come back to the conversation later and work out a mutually agreeable solution, or at least some compromise.

If political history is prologue, it seems as if it's human nature to defend oneself against attack. No matter whether the presidential contenders are front runners or second-tier hopefuls, there's no end to the confrontations and sharp clashes.

Instead of immediately fighting back the next time you're facing what could turn into a hostile front with your partner, take some time to reflect. In an ongoing confrontation with an emerging adult child, like whether to extend her curfew, or with a parent, like giving up his car keys, try a different approach. If you're feeling particularly brave, discuss feelings you've been harboring about an issue that requires an apology. Grow from these experiences as you take the opportunity to turn negative feelings into more positive ones, teach a life lesson or form a deeper connection.

2007, Her Mentor Center
About the Author
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. & Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are founders of http://www.HerMentorCenter.com, a website for midlife women and http://www.NourishingRelationships.Blogspot.com, a blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about Baby Boomers and family relationships. They offer free newsletter Stepping Stones.
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