What Are the 4 Family Communication Patterns?

We all talk a good game when it comes to family. But everywhere we look, family dysfunction is common. Part of this arises from us not recognizing that family units are quite complicated. A bunch of people are connected despite big differences. They are different in age, personality, needs, beliefs, interests, and more. Still, somehow, we expect to thrive merely because we’re a “family.”

The antidote does not require the reinvention of the wheel. But it very much involves work. Healthy communication is the foundation of healthy family dynamics. To help us along this tricky path, it’s helpful to learn the four family conversation patterns.

What Are Family Communication Patterns?

Generally speaking, families tend to lean toward conversation or conformity when it comes to communication. In a nutshell, here’s what that means:

  • Conversational: This relates to how open and common communication between family members is.
  • Conformity: In this orientation, the priority is sharing values and beliefs more than the frequency of the conversations themselves.

Of course, it’s not about staying strictly in one category, and thus, the actual list consists of four discernible options.

What Are the 4 Family Communication Patterns?

1. Consensual

In this archetype, there is a high emphasis on both conversation and conformity. Parents make the decisions, but they factor in their children’s emotions and opinions. Once a decision is made, parents take the time to explain why they’ve chosen as they did.

2. Pluralistic

A pluralistic family type also values the quantity of conversation. However, conformity is not required. Parents do not make decisions for everyone. Their children participate in the process.

3. Protective

Flipping the script, this pattern puts a premium on conformity at the expense of conversation. Obedience is the desired outcome, and children are not involved before, during, or after decisions are made.

4. Laissez-faire

As the name implies, everyone is free to make their own decisions — without needing any conversations about it.

Again, situations vary, and grey areas exist. That said, here are four guidelines that are very useful when assessing one’s own family dynamic. They also come in handy when addressing a communication breakdown.

How to Avoid Dysfunctional Family Communication

Families may fluctuate between the four patterns above, but ideally, the goal is to keep the dynamic healthy and productive. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions:

1. Don’t Leave Things Unsaid or Unresolved

Even with family who value conversation, some topics can feel as if they’re off-limits. This can build resentment and lead to petty, retentive “stand-in” arguments. In some families, it can be perceived as a “weakness” to discuss emotions. Don’t deemphasize conversational needs — regardless of where you stand on conformity.

2. Be Aware and Sensitive to Individual Needs

As touched on up top, each family member is sovereign. Acknowledge your differences and find ways to connect and accommodate. Remain available.

3. Hone Your Communication Skills

For example:

  • Be an active listener and avoid being an interrupter
  • Check your non-verbal choices, e.g., body language and facial expressions
  • Eschew passive-aggressive tactics (silent treatment, sarcasm, etc.) at all costs
  • Stay curious about what others have to say
  • Remain respectful
  • Practice empathy

4. Apologies and Forgiveness

Learn how to give an authentic apology whenever necessary. Practice forgiveness when the tables are turned. Don’t allow pride to be your downfall.

It Helps to Have a Communication Coach

No person and no family should be expected to have all of this figured out. Communication is a fluid process that can be made more accessible with the help of a professional. Individual or family therapy is an excellent starting point for those seeking to repair and heal a family in distress. I’d love to talk with you about all this soon.

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