Families may be particularly vulnerable to this. The length of time and the intimacy of family relationships make it easy to develop the habit of assuming you know what your family members mean.
If you act on those assumptions, you can quickly find you are talking at cross purposes. Your family members may start to feel that you don't understand them, or aren't interested in their views and feelings. When that happens it's easy to feel hurt yourself, knowing that you didn't intend to slight or ignore anyone. It's pretty easy to end up with a completely unnecessary 'row' growing out of ineffective communication.
You need to check out your assumptions with the other person. This is especially significant when they are telling you something important. Asking questions shows an interest in what the other person is saying. It helps to establish that your intent is about understanding their message. That helps to give both of you the feeling that you are basically on the same side, even if you are going to disagree about something.
Simple, short questions can be especially useful. They don't influence the other person's answers. Open questions get more information. Open questions can't be answered with a "yes"or "no", which don't really tell you much. Open questions start with: who, what, when, where, how and why.
For example, if you asked your teenager a closed question like, "Are you feeling down?" they might simply answer , "Yes". Whereas if you said, "You're looking down. What's the matter?" you may get a more detailed response. Even if you don't get much response, you've shown that you have noticed them, and were interested in their story rather than intent on your own assumptions.
When you ask a question and receive information, it's important to reflect on what has been said and to check back with the speaker that you've heard correctly. This gives a chance to clarify the issue if you've misunderstood. It also shows that you want to understand and that you care about hearing their story. It helps to build trust,it improves communication, and it saves an awful lot of frustration.
First you need to listen to the message the other person is giving you. For example, if you are late home and your partner says "The dinner's spoiled", you should listen to the words, their tone of voice, and notice their body language. Then you need to identify what the feeling is behind the message. Is your partner angry, frustrated or hurt? The next step is to check with your partner that you have understood them by asking, "You're looking angry. Is it because I'm late?"
At the end of the conversation it can be useful to summarise what has been discussed or agreed. If your partner was angry that you were late home and that meant the dinner was spoiled, you might then agree on what will happen in the future. It's important to confirm what you agree. For example you might say, "So, you don't mind me working late as long as I phone you during the day to let you know. Is that right?"
The important thing is to be conscious of really listening to your family, and to practice asking questions to check out your assumptions and to find out more. Investing a bit of effort in hearing what those around you are actually wanting you to understand can save you a great deal of hurt and pointless scrapping. And it can add a lot of warmth and ease to family communications.