Seven Elements of Positive Communication (Talking With Your Loved One)

At Scottish Families, we use a programme called CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) in our Support Services. We believe it gives the best possible outcomes for anyone concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use. It teaches the best ways to make small but powerful changes in your life.

CRAFT helps you to think of things in a different way. It teaches you how to talk to someone about their alcohol or other drug use differently, communicate with each other more positively, and set and keep boundaries to yourself. It might not be for everyone though, and if you come to our service and feel it’s not for you, we can look at other ways to support you.

In this little blog mini-series, we’re starting off with the seven elements of positive communication. When it comes to talking to your loved one about their alcohol or other drug use, it can be so difficult. But these seven elements can help you achieve a more positive outcome with them.

They are:

  1. Be positive
  2. Be brief
  3. Be specific
  4. Label your feelings
  5. Offer an understanding statement
  6. Take partial responsibility
  7. Offer to help

These steps take planning and thought, but over time they become easier to do. These steps are helpful for all communication, not just when talking about alcohol or drugs.

Be Positive

Being ‘positive’ means describing what you want, instead of what you don’t want. This shifts the framing of what you say from being critical and complaining to supportive and doable.

It’s easier to ‘reward’ someone for doing something, rather than not doing something. Being positive decreases defensiveness and instead promotes motivation.

Unhelpful = ‘you always embarrass me when you are drinking’

Positive = ‘I love spending time with you when you are sober’

Be Brief

Most of us will say more than we intend to say if we haven’t planned in advance, especially if we’re nervous or angry. Write out what you want to say beforehand and stick to it.

Unhelpful = ‘I don’t know what to do with you being out all the time, you never phone to let me know when you’ll be home, I don’t know where you are or what you are doing.’

Brief = ‘Could we agree that you call me tonight if you’re going to be out late – just so I know you’re safe and okay?’

Be Specific

It’s easy to ignore or misunderstand something if it is not communicated clearly. If you try to refer to specific behaviours instead of thoughts or feelings, it may make change more observable, measurable and reinforceable.

Instead of telling your loved one to ‘be more responsible’, try telling them the specific behaviour you’d like to see such as ‘I’d really appreciate it if you could phone me if you’re going to be in late from work.’

Unhelpful = ‘You said you were going to get help months ago and you haven’t bothered to do anything about it. You need to sort yourself out, when’s this going to change?’

Specific = ‘There’s a meeting on a Tuesday night, would you be willing to go to that? I can drop you off and pick you up if you’d like?’

Label your feelings

Be brief and in proportion – a description of your emotional reaction to the problem can help with empathy and consideration from your loved one. Say how you feel in a calm and non-accusatory manner. If your feelings are very intense, it would be helpful to tone them down. So if you were feeling ‘furious and terrified’ you could say ‘frustrated and worried’ instead.

Unhelpful = ‘you are breaking this family up, you don’t care about our feelings!’

Improved = ‘I sometimes feel like you don’t realise the effect your drinking is having on us, I love you and care about you.’

Understanding Statement

The more the person believes that you ‘get’ why they are acting the way they are, the less defensive they will be and the more likely to hear you and oblige. Trying to understand your loved one’s perspective builds your empathy, which will help your relationship.

Unhelpful = ‘Why can we never spend time together without you drinking?’

Improved = ‘I know drinking helps you relax and you often feeling anxious if you don’t drink. I would really like to find a way to support you with that and spend time together where we don’t drink.’

Take Some Responsibility

Sharing in a problem, even a tiny piece of the problem decreases defensiveness and promotes collaboration. It shows your loved one that you’re interested in solving, not blaming.

Accepting partial responsibility does not mean taking the blame or admitting fault. It communicates ‘we are in this together’.

Unhelpful = ‘You didn’t even bother to turn up for your appointment last week and you’re happy to pretend you forgot and don’t get anything sorted.’

Positive = ‘I know sometimes I give you a hard time about you attending your appointments, I can imagine that increases the stress and pressure on you. I know it’s not easy. Could I help by reminding you to go to your appointment or driving you when I’m on my way to work?’

Offer to Help

When phrased as a question, an offer to help can communicate non-blaming, problem-solving support. Try asking ‘is there any way I can help?’ a little goes a long way to improving communication.

Unhelpful = ‘You never remember your GP appointment.’

Improved = ‘Would it help you if I reminded you about your appointment?’

It does seem like a lot and there is a lot to remember, but starting to use these elements can really change how you and your loved one speak and understand each other.

Want to develop your communication further?

You can read more in the 20-minute CRAFT guide here.

If you are worried about someone else’s alcohol or drug use, we are here to listen and to help. You can contact our team on 08080 10 10 11, or use the webchat on our website.

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