If You Can't Say Something Nice, At Least Say Something Constructive

Posted on Thu, Dec 24, 2009 @ 04:20 PM

New study on coping with interpersonal tensions

Image courtesy Nam Nguyen

The December 2009 issue of the APA's Journal of Family Psychology presents findings that may fly in the face of the traditional wisdom that "if you can't say something nice" you shouldn't say anything at all.

Researchers Kira Birditt and Leslie Rott of the University of Michigan, together with Karen Fingerman of Purdue, examined relationships between parents and their grown children to assess strategies used in coping with tensions in their relationships.

The study's most notable finding?

"In contrast with constructive strategies," the researchers write, "avoidant strategies predicted lower solidarity and greater ambivalence. This finding was surprising because we had expected that avoidance would be associated with greater solidarity and lower ambivalence."

Gunhild O. Hagestad's 1987 research into common interpersonal strategies employed intergenerationally within families found that families often establish "demilitarized zones"-topics that are avoided in order to preserve peace and maintain relationships. However, this new research suggests that the strategy may not be a beneficial one.

Birditt, Rott and Fingerman speculate that "Hagestad's research focused on stressful family situations that may not apply to families in the current study. Thus, in typical situations, avoidant strategies may not be instrumental for greater solidarity and lower ambivalence."

Constructive strategies in interpersonal relations include working collaboratively to find positive solutions to disagreements, accepting one another's limitations and understanding one another's point of view.

Destructive strategies include the use of inflammatory or emotional language, accusations, yelling or criticism.

Overall, Birditt, Rott and Fingerman reported that mothers and fathers, as well as their adult children, tended to use constructive strategies more often than destructive or avoidant ones and recommended that this should be encouraged over the use of avoidant or destructive strategies in coping with relationship problems.

Tags: family relationships, Ruth Nemzoff, communication improve, good communication, how to improve communication, problems relationships, resolving interpersonal conflict, tannen