It is important to understand that every time you talk, all of you talks. Whenever you use words, your face, body, muscles, voice, breath all speak too. If there are discrepancies between what you are saying and what you are doing, then you are being incongruent and sending out mixed messages. If, for example, someone is telling you something sad whilst smiling with teary eyes and saying they are fine, this is a mixed message.
Some of us react to mixed messages by hearing the words only, some of us latch onto the actions, completely ignoring the words and some of us just bury our head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening and either leave or go to sleep!
One definition of madness is to keep on doing the same thing, hoping for a different result. So even if you think, “Oh, here we go again!” how about trying something new? Take, for example, your 16-year-old who barges through the front door, slams down the school bag and stomps through to the bedroom, all the while telling you everything’s just fine. When the dust has settled a little, try saying: “I know you say you are fine but I’m not blind, I definitely sense some storm clouds here. Is there anything you want to talk about now? If not now, we could discuss it later.”
Remember to keep your voice level and non-blaming, creating a sense of safety. Your teenager then has a chance to open up if that is their choice. You haven’t scolded, ridiculed (teenagers loathe being ridiculed) or intruded. All you have done is comment on the mixed message with concern and opened up space.
Mixed messages are crazy making stuff and have no place in truly effective communication.