“Say something once, why say it again?”

Photo by Alvimann from Morguefile

-Talking Heads

I recently came across two important tools for communication. One of them is STOP – Stop, think, observe, proceed. The second one is from Craig Ferguson and has three questions to ask yourself:

  1. “Does this need to be said?”
  2. “Does this need to be said by me?”
  3. “Does this need to be said by me now?”

Maybe you’ve heard of one or both of these. Have you tried them out? I’d be really interested to hear stories from all of you about how these tools help your communication with your beloved—and everyone else (kids, co-workers, family).

Often, when your partner repeats what s/he said, it’s because s/he doesn’t feel heard. So much of what is needed in relationships, any relationship, is to be heard and seen. To listen carefully and deeply doesn’t mean you agree! It means you care enough about your partner to listen and take in what’s being said. The topic could be anything from an issue s/he is having with you, to work, family, money, sex, logistics, etc.

Here’s what will probably (hopefully) work, whether or not you agree:

  1. Speaker talks.
  2. Listener says, “I heard you say . . .” followed by “Did I get everything?”
  3. Speaker is kind and doesn’t jump down the listener’s throat if s/he didn’t get all of it. Speaker says, “You did” or “You got most of it. This is what else I said . . .”
  4. Listener then either says back the missed portion, or goes directly to empathy (e.g. “That sounds really hard” or “That must bring you joy” or “I’m proud of you for handling it that way” or “Well, that sucks” and so on.)
  5. Speaker acknowledges and can elaborate, or ask the listener what s/he thinks, sees, feels, etc.

Does this take time? Of course it does! And it takes a lot less time than having a misunderstanding or argument (“You never listen to me . . .”) that you have to recover from and then get back to the original topic (which is often lost by the time you get through the repair).

Let’s move on to STOP – Stop, think, observe, proceed. I think the most important thing about STOP is that it gives time for your cortical/thinking brain to come online so you are able to RESPOND. Your emotional/limbic brain REACTS in 1/200th of a second! Everyone wants and needs to be responded to. If you’re busy, you can say, “Let me finish this and I’ll be with you in 10 minutes”—and make damn sure you show up in 10 minutes! Because it’s your responsibility now. (I’m hearing a lot about peoples’ rights, and almost nothing about peoples’ responsibilities. Not a good recipe.)

So in addition to buying time for the slower cortical brain to come online, it gives you a chance to notice or witness the situation without reacting. You can say to yourself, “Ahh, this must be important to my beloved. Therefore, it’s important to me.” In just that moment you have added intimacy to your relationship.

Your next move is to get curious; ask good, open-ended questions. For example: “Tell me more about that” or “What’s the most important thing you need me to know about this?” Then follow the speaker/listener structure above.

You are then able to proceed WITH your partner (remember the image of playing tennis—do you want to be on opposing sides of the net, or playing doubles together?). The act of being on the same page and coordinating efforts in any area of your life will be that much better—leading to further intimacy.

Now to Craig Ferguson’s three questions:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me now?

Again, this simple yet powerful process S L O W S everything down. Take the time to sit with these questions before, or at least as you’re about to say or blurt words that could have repercussions. There are many things that need to be said. Being clear in your communication is imperative. Most of us could have more finesse in timing and how something is said. Remember, your goal is to open a dialog. If you go guns blazing, using “You” statements, you’ll have shot yourself in the foot before starting. And maybe even causing a further communication breach. How you approach your beloved will likely be how you’re responded (or reacted) to. You have no control over your partner; you only have control over your behaviors and words.

However, if you’re a conflict averse person or someone who holds way too much inside that ends up being detrimental to your well-being, please work on that—for yourself and those around you. You need a healthy balance.

Listen well, speak well, STOP, and ask yourself Craig’s questions. Please let me know how your experiments go. In fact, in the realm of being transparent with your honey, tell him/her that you’re going to be trying a few new communication tools. Maybe s/he will want to do so as well.