This is a GREAT practice that most of us could improve on!
If you find your communication isn’t going to well, go in with a PLAN. A plan can help you stay on track and it gives you a framework to follow instead of just letting your feelings take over.
In every communication, there’s two roles to play. One person is the speaker and one person is the listener. When we speak our basic objective is to have a message heard. This is a speaker’s responsibility too. While our speech is considered our most effective method of communication, we communicate by body language, gestures, tone, etc.
If you want to improve your communication, here’s the PLAN. It is based on Imago Therapy. Now this is a structure, so it’s going to feel confining. It’s supposed to! A structure keeps you contained. Isn’t that the point? If you are willing to do anything to save your relationship, this isn’t a big deal is it????
So, here’s the outline:
For the “Speaker”:
1. Make an appointment. Now this doesn’t have to be formal, but you should make sure it’s a good time and that your partner is willing to talk at that point. So many people sabotage a conversation by starting it right at bedtime when all their partner wants to do is sleep! How do you expect that to go???
So you ask, can we talk for a minute? Are you available to discuss something with me? This is a REQUEST not a DEMAND, so no reaction to feeling rejected, ask for a better time to do this.
Step 2 is state your topic succinctly and using nonviolent language. Focus on your feelings and don’t tell your partner’s story. Things to stay away from “you never”, “you always” and anything insulting. (Read more about nonviolent communication here.) Generally it’s a good idea to stay away from the word you at all. Remember writing things out is a great way to practice! Your goal is to be heard, this means avoiding triggering your partner’s defenses. Remember this is growth, so expect pain!
Step 3 is stay on topic. You can’t solve every issue. If you tend to be a kitchen sinker, time for a behavior change! Learn how to be really effective at this and you can resolve issues, but only one at a time.
Step 4 is to Thank your partner for listening
Now the Listeners have rules too! Rules for the listener:
Your rule #1--Listen only. No speaking. Don’t interrupt. If you feel something rising up in you that wants to retort, focus on the words your partner is saying.
Do you ever watch Judge Judy? Sometimes they have a case there between people who were in a relationship that’s now gone bad. One person starts talking and the other cannot control themselves, they speak out and interrupt. Judge Judy jumps in and says be quiet or you’ll be out of my courtroom. You can laugh about that and shake your head, but how often do we do the same thing to our partner? The only problem is we don’t have a Judge Judy to intervene, so our partner has to fight for their right to be heard. Pretend you have Judge Judy sitting in front of you.
The second rule for the listener is to mirror back what was heard. When the speaker is finished, you say, “What I heard you say was……(here you will paraphrase in your own words what you heard your partner say)”. You aren’t putting your assumptions in the mix; you aren’t agreeing. This is a fact based exchange. “I heard you say……”
Then rule #3 is to ask 2 specific questions. Did I get that right? To which the speaker will say “yes” or “no”. If the answer is no, the speaker can further clarify. After the clarification, the listener will again paraphrase and ask, “Did I get that right?”
The second question is, “Is there more?” The speaker will then respond “no” or “yes”. If the answer is yes, the speaker will continue to elaborate.
This process gets repeated for as long as the speaker needs to speak. If you stick to the one topic rule, then it shouldn’t take more than one or two times asking that question to get to the end. The speaker and the listener should agree that they are both understanding the issue from the speaker’s perspective at this point.
Rule #4 for the listener is to validate with empathy. Validation does not equate to agreement. Validation means if you really heard your partner, you can begin to see their perspective. You might demonstrate this by saying, “I can see why you’d feel that way because…..” or, “ I can see why you’d react in that way........” Developing empathy and validating your partner shows respect for their feelings. It doesn’t mean you think they are right or wrong.
Rule #5 for the Listener is to thank their partner for sharing. You can now repeat this process reversing roles, but the point is to hear each other, not to prove someone right or wrong.
Playing Alone???? What if your partner won’t go along with this? You can absolutely do this solo. Your partner might not follow the Listening rules when you’re talking, but you can follow the Speaker’s rules. You can listen better to your partner by following this outline. Either way, I’m betting things will go more smoothly in communication.
Remember, behind every complaint is a deep personal need. How will you discover what it is if you don’t listen well? If your relationship is going to change, you have to change. If you adopt some positive behaviors, your relationship will improve. Make a commitment to speak or listen according to this script for the next two weeks. I’m confident you’ll see some change in your relationship.
Follow the script for speaking and listening even if your partner isn’t playing with you. Use the script for either speaking or listening every day for the next two weeks. It’s one of those little changes that will have a big impact. If you get stuck or have questions, email me or come over to the forum.
Good luck and let me know if I can help!
I constantly encourage people to imagine looking at their thoughts as if from a distance,a 20,000 foot view. You’re looking down and there’s lots of space between our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re in the midst of some strong emotion, but it’s true. We often feel that our behavior is directly tied to our feelings. In reality, we’ve all had a situation where we felt one way and we had to behave in another. For instance, if you ever had a boss that made you really angry, you might have held your tongue. You were probably able to control the impulse to act on that feeling.
We have to think about those three areas: thoughts, feelings, and behavior as separate areas that we can explore and use to influence each other. By mastering this, we have control over improving our experience. We can prevent mindless acting out of feelings which damages relationships.
In my opinion, our feeling world is difficult to control. Emotions are instinctual and they’re there to inform us. They are a kind of warning system. The word emotion actually means “to cause to move”. They want to move us away from an uncomfortable or dangerous situation and move us towards a place of comfort. So, when we’re happy, our feeling world communicates with the thinking world and we think, “Wow! How lucky I am,” or “How much fun I’m having”. Those thoughts lead to behaviors of smiling or singing. The thoughts, the feelings, and the behaviors are all acting congruently. The same is true if we have a negative feeling. If we feel hurt, the same process ensues. Our FEELINGS are hurt; we may THINK, “This person doesn’t really love me”. Then we BEHAVE by ignoring them. I’m sure none of you would ever do such a thing.
Both the good and the bad of emotions is they are instinctual. That also means they’re not rational or logical. So, the message they send to our thoughts and behaviors can be flawed. You have to know feelings are just feelings. They don’t necessarily speak the truth. Their meaning comes from us. A patient told me once that her feelings lied to her all the time. There is so much truth in that statement. I can be really angry and upset one day and the next day, it really doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve also really not been bothered at all by something until I started thinking about it! Feelings are the most changeable of these areas. Not a very reliable basis for making decisions.
While it is difficult to control the feeling world, it’s much easier to control the thoughts and behavior worlds. Our thoughts are sometimes irrational as well, but we can choose our focus and to add fuel to the feelings fire or squelch it. We can think thoughts to increase our feelings, whether bad or good, or we can shift our thoughts to ones that decrease those feelings. To use my earlier example of my partner hurting my feelings, I can think, “He doesn’t really love me,” or “He’s always trying to hurt my feelings in some way.” Those kinds of thoughts are going to increase my negative feeling, aren’t they? If my partner hurts my feelings and I think, “Well, he’s probably having a bad day and it’s nothing to do with me” or “You know, overall my partner is a pretty good guy, he’s just acting crabby today.” Those types of thoughts are going to make me feel more positively about the situation. I have control over that. It’s a lot easier to say that than to do, I understand, but when you recognize we have control of making ourselves feel better or worse, it’s really powerful.
All right, so what about those behaviors? Behaviors are exciting because thinking and feeling just happen a lot of times, but your behaviors are what wins the game! They are also 100% under your control! Your behavior world directly impacts these thoughts and feelings too. In the above scenario, I can behave in ways that are going to increase my discomfort. I can give him the silent treatment; I can do something to get him back; or I can act out in an angry way (yell and scream). Those behaviors all reinforce that negative feeling. On the other hand, I can decide to do something kind for my partner and this will lead my thoughts and feelings in that positive direction.
Have you ever heard that saying “fake it till you make it”? It refers to choosing behaviors that are good for you and, many times, just acting in a certain way will lead to the thoughts and the feelings coming along in that direction. As a matter of fact, I don’t think they have any choice; they absolutely have to come along. I think that as one of these areas moves in a certain direction, the other two areas move that direction also.
Many times my prescriptions are for behavior change because while thoughts and feelings are important, behaviors really do win or lose the game. When you consistently do loving behaviors, your thoughts and your feelings will eventually follow along.
I want to know resisting behavior change because you just didn’t FEEL like it is irrational. What if you chose to do the winning behavior, no matter how you felt? You’ll probably surprise your partner and you might even surprise yourself, too. So, focus on a behavior change that you’ve been avoiding. Can you make an effort to do it? You can just pick one; we don’t have to go hog wild here. Pick one and do it consistently and persistently, no matter how you feel as an experiment. See if it impacts your feelings and thoughts.
Let me know how it goes. Comment or email me at Allison@allisonvelez.com . It’d be great to hear from you!