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Dear Teen Son, “Read The Room” and Other Communication Skills You Need For Successful Conversations

Dear teen son,

You have grown so much during these teen years, and I’m so proud of how you’ve matured into a smart, kind, and responsible young man. You’ve developed important social skills and improved your communication in many ways. You practice good manners by saying please and thank you, and you act like a gentleman in how you treat others. I love how you shake people’s hands, focus your attention on the conversation, and speak clearly and directly when answering questions.

I see all your strengths emerge as you age. I know it’s been hard going through the struggles of puberty and all that entails and pushing through those challenges has sometimes been hard. As you grow more mature and confident in communicating with people in social settings and one-on-one personal interactions, it’s time to learn these communication skills for successful conversations. All of these are difficult to acquire and will take some time to master as you age, so I don’t expect you to improve significantly right away. The first step is awareness and understanding your own behavior and tuning in to the reactions of everyone around you in social settings. There are five key communication skills I want to teach you now because you are old enough to learn and build on the basic social skills you already have.

When you are in a conversation, please don’t interrupt to correct someone.

I know you care about telling the truth, and sometimes you might think someone shares the wrong stats, facts, or recollections about a particular experience you both shared. But, dear son, it is rude to interrupt them with what you think is the correct information. Please stop doing this, no matter how important you think it is! You must learn how to control your impulses to correct every single thing you hear that you believe to be inaccurate. Even if you might be right, it’s disrespectful to the person speaking, and you ruin the conversation with your interjection, which can often be received as condemning or condescending. I understand you might feel like you are trying to help, but you are NOT. 

Your job is to quietly listen and allow the person to tell their story and support them with positive engagement. If what they shared is a serious concern to you, then when the conversation is over, you can privately approach that person and share what you believe to be the correct version. (There are exceptions to this rule- if someone is talking negatively about someone or breaking someone’s confidence by sharing something private, please do the right thing and interrupt them!)

When you want to talk with someone, don’t expect them to drop what they’re doing right away.

I know you get impatient when you are eager to talk to someone and they don’t respond immediately or they tell you to wait. You might be excited to share something you found on your phone, ask permission about something that needs an answer fast, or hear back from a friend about specific plans. I understand that sometimes you don’t realize how rude or disruptive you act when you want what you want, and you don’t see anything wrong with that. But when you keep talking or interrupting, or continue to call/Facetime/text/snap until you have their attention- that is impulsive and immature behavior. You must have more self-control, patience, and awareness of other people’s needs. 

You do not deserve immediate attention on your command. NO ONE DOES. Every kid is naturally self-centered, and we ALL are in one way or another. But one of the true signs of maturity as you age is changing your perspective that everything isn’t always “about me.” People are busy and distracted with important things going on in their lives, and the sooner you realize that- the less frustrated you will feel and the more you will learn to be flexible and understanding when they can’t respond right away.

When someone is sharing sensitive feelings, don’t question why they would feel that way or give them unwanted advice.

I know you might be confused or think you are even trying to help someone when they express their personal feelings with you, but never question why they feel the way they do. This does not validate or support their feelings when they struggle with intense emotions. When you respond with a questionable tone and words that convey that you don’t understand them or that they shouldn’t feel that way, this dismisses their feelings, doubts their condition, and disrespects their difficult experience. Also, as much as you think it might be helpful, please don’t tell them what they need to do or how to do things differently, say it’s no big deal, or give them any advice- UNLESS THEY ASK FOR IT. (And if they do ask for your input, by all means, go for it.)

Your job is to listen carefully and thoughtfully and give them all your attention while they share their story and why they feel the way they do. Then, the very best way to respond to anyone who shares their struggles with you is gently saying something compassionate and asking one simple question- here’s a great response you can remember to use: “I’m really sorry you are going through this. Is there anything I can do to help you?” And make sure you try to follow through on whatever they ask you to do. (Most of the time, people simply need someone to listen, so you’ll already be doing a great job of supporting them.)

Pay attention to how the people in the conversation respond to your words.

You think you might be telling the best joke or the most riveting story while you’re in the middle of a group of friends, in the classroom, at work, or with your family. But the reality might be completely different than what you assume. No matter what you are talking about or who you are talking to, you must READ THE ROOM. This means you need to tune in to the people around you who are listening and check their facial expressions and body language to see how they are responding to what you are saying. And you need to do this regularly- even with one-on-one conversations.

This is a skill that develops over time as we age, so you might not always get it right. Your perceptions might be completely different from the reality of the situation, and you can misinterpret someone’s body language or facial expression for something else. It happens to us all. Even adults can get it wrong! But it’s an essential part of mature socialization and successful communication, and this is essential for developing deeper relationships. If people show signs of being offended, upset, or simply not interested in what you are saying, it’s time for you to stop talking about that topic. You can wrap things up with a quick few words, let someone else talk, or switch the subject to something you think might be more socially acceptable and positive.

It’s time to make conversations two-sided.

I’ve loved watching you improve on many fundamental social skills through these teen years. You’ve become much more comfortable answering people’s questions and using complete sentences with clear and concise responses. I know it can still be awkward and stressful to interact with some adults with good intentions, but they drill you with questions about your life and future plans. I’m so proud of how you are pushing through the pressure and tension that fills some of those conversations and responding with maturity and respect.

One of the best ways to divert the attention and questions off of you is to turn the conversation back on the person and ask them some questions, too. I know you’ve been simply surviving these social interactions by focusing on responding to their questions, but you’re old enough and more confident and experienced now, to make the conversation equally balanced. As soon as you are done replying to one of their questions, even early in the conversation, you can immediately add, “How are you doing?” Or ask them the very same question they asked you. Or ask them about something about their life that you can show an interest in learning. This reciprocation makes the social interaction two-sided, taking the pressure off you to keep talking. It’s a win-win outcome! 

These are all more advanced communication skills that will take time to develop and practice for successful conversations. But you are old enough to understand why they’re needed and see how the success of your conversations can depend on them. No one is perfect when trying to read people’s responses or interacting with others successfully all the time. Just keep trying and be open to hearing advice and input, as the people in your life will continue to teach you how to communicate better with them. 

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