Does the idea of communicating with your loved one involve idle chit chat while gazing at the T.V. or glossing over your mobile device? Are you struggling with conflict and disagreements internally that show up as passive-aggressive behavior in yourself or others? What about with colleagues at work or even with whom you interact with on social media?
You’d think they are all different- that close relationship should count more, but why is that? Truly, anyone you communicate with deserves respect, kindness, and authentic dialog. No one needs to accept anything less.
Good communication is essential to having a loving, harmonious relationship. But, most of us were never really taught the art of relationship dialogue. Sure, we read magazine articles about finding the right moment to express our needs and how we need to learn how to compromise, etc. We try to keep trying to get them to hear our point of view and then get frustrated when our partner, colleague or friend doesn’t seem interested.
Or… there’s another argument with raised voices. Yikes! Then we wonder why our relationships aren’t perfect like they are in the movies. Social media is a perfect example of mass temper tantrums mixed in with genuine messages. No matter a large group or group of two people we always have an opportunity for grace and healthy dialog. And, yes it really helps if both parties are interested. My mom always used to say you need “two to tango”!
Today I’m going to remind you of some relationship communication techniques that work! I discovered these strategies many years ago while studying the work of Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. Many of you have heard me recommend his books “Getting the Love You Want and Keeping the Love You Find”. His work has truly had a dramatic impact on my own relationship.
So, take a deep breath and have hope. You can reinvent your communication style and dramatically improve all your relationships as a result. There is also an added bonus! It also keeps you neutral and has a very positive effect on your intuition too which depends on being in that zone to assess information accurately. You can’t read between the lines if you’re pissed off and reactive!
Dialog is our primary means of relating. You never really understand someone else’s internal reality until they tell you, just as they don’t really know your reality until you share it with them. Without good dialogue, you’re essentially relating to your version of their reality and thus yourself—not them. When you’re relating to yourself, you’re bringing all that extra “stuff” to the table—preconceived notions, beliefs, old wounds, regrets, and so on. Good dialogue requires that you step back from yourself and really hear the other person. You must seek to understand, not react. Yes, its hard with some people and exhausting but it’s worth it to learn this regardless.
Harville Hendrix calls this process Intentional Dialogue and it consists of three parts— Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy. Here’s how it works:
Mirroring is the process of reflecting back to your partner to reassure them that you heard exactly what they’ve said. You must leave out any opinion, judgment, rationalizing, and distortion. For example, let’s say Sherry is mad because her girlfriend Suzie went on a bit of a shopping spree.
Sherry: I can’t believe you spent all that money on clothes again. You said you’d be more responsible with those credit cards. I’m so tired of always having to be the one to take care of our money. I thought we were going to save more. And it’s so disrespectful that you didn’t call me to discuss buying such an expensive dress.
Suzie: So, if I’m hearing you accurately, you can’t believe I bought all these clothes. And when I didn’t call to tell you that I was buying this dress, you felt that I was rude and didn’t respect you. And you’re tired because you take care of our finances.”
(Note that Suzie didn’t try to defend herself. Yes, the dress may have been a great buy, but she mirrored back Sherry’s feeling without judgment!)
Validation is recognizing that the other person’s experience is true for them and makes sense from their perspective. You put yourself in their shoes. Here’s what Suzie would say:
Suzie: I see what you’re saying, Sherry. From your point of view, we had plans to save more money, and I went out and bought new clothes. I can understand why you are angry.
Empathy is communicating with the other person that you understand his or her feelings and that they make sense. To take it to the next level, you can also communicate that you’re experiencing those emotions yourself.
Suzie: I understand what you’re saying and I can imagine that my buying this dress and not calling to discuss it made you feel angry and not respected.
In any relationship, no matter how loving and harmonious, there is bound to be conflict. In fact, in a good relationship, conflict will help you grow and heal. I talked a bit about this in my recent blog on forgiveness. Practicing good dialogue in your relationships helps you and your partner reach a whole new level of intimacy, healing, and understanding. This process also works in all relationships, including with friends and family.
Share this process of mirroring, validation, and empathy with your loved one, or friend. Make an agreement to practice this intentional dialogue every day. You don’t have to wait for a conflict but can also use this process when it comes to simple conversation. For some of you it may seem or feel contrived at times, but go through with it anyway, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the amazing results. And report back on how it’s working for you! Remember if you start at home with people close to you it has such a positive effect on others you communicate with too!