Effective Communication: Speaker/Listener

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Communication is one of the most commonly sited struggles that couples face.

“We just can’t seem to communicate.”

“If only she would say what she means instead of making me try and guess.”

“If she would stop her nagging.”

“If he would open up to me.”

The list goes on and on.  Why is it that we have such a hard time communicating?  I believe that there are primarily two reasons that we struggle.  One reason is that we are selfish.  We want to be heard but don’t really want to hear what the other person has to say.   We long to be understood and validated.   Yet for some reason we have a difficult time offering that same understanding and validation to others.  When they speak we respond with a quick “I understand what you are saying” when we have really been planning our own come back the whole time they were speaking.  We act like we already know what the other person is thinking and feeling.  We want to be right at all costs, even if it means damaging the relationship.  We want to appear smart, superior, or powerful, without consideration for the other person.  Ultimately, we want to have it on our own terms, in our own way.

The second reason we have trouble communicating can be attributed to a lack of skill. We really truly do want to communicate our needs AND hear the needs of others, but it is hard, our emotions get in the way and we end up going in circles around topics.  The good news is that there are skills that can be taught to improve the effectiveness of your communication.

John Maxwell once said that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This principle is also applicable to communication. When you decide to put your thoughts and emotions aside momentarily, so that you can really hear what the other person is saying in their own words, you will communicate respect and love to the other person.  Ideally this will be reciprocated and they will also take the time to hear and understand your perspective.

Often times we will get so caught up in arguing that we actually end up spinning our wheels in arguments.  Throughout the conversation we pinball back and forth between many topics and accusations. When this happens nothing is accomplished and typically both people leave the conversation feeling frustrated.

John Gottman has taught several couples a technique for conversation called the “Speaker/Listener” Technique.  In this technique individual’s alternate taking on the role of Speaker and Listener in order to allow for each person to be heard and understood.

BASIC guidelines:

1.) Both individuals will have an opportunity to be the “speaker” and be the “listener”.   The speaker is the one who is trying to convey the message.  They are responsible for communicating their thoughts, feelings, and desires.  The listener is responsible for hearing and understanding what the speaker is saying.

2.) Only ONE person can be the speaker at a time.  When the speaker is speaking the listener should refrain from interrupting the speaker.  Interruptions can cause the individual to loose their train of thought and hinder the message the speaker is trying to communicate.  Questions for clarification can be done once the speaker has finished speaking.

3.) You can only address one issue at a time.  When using this technique it is important to stay on one specific issue.  The deeper roots or meaning of the conversation can be drawn out through the conversation and there may be a broad stream of applications once the discussion has ended.  However, during the conversation it is helpful to stay focused on one specific topic.

4.) When you are the “speaker” you share your viewpoints.  When you are the speaker your job is to share your own view points.  NOT to comment or infer the viewpoints or feelings of  the other person.  To do this you will want to use “I” statements.

5.)  When you are the “Listener” you make sure that you are correctly understanding the message the speaker is trying to relay.  Your job as the listener is to get acknowledgement from the speaker that you have accurately and completely understood what they are saying.  This is different from simply saying “I understand”.  What you are going for is for the speaker to identify that you, as the listener are understanding them.

SPEAKER guidelines:

1.)  Keep your sentences and the amount of information your share at one time short.  Use simple sentences, with concrete examples.  Avoid exaggeration, mindreading, and generalizations.  Try to share only 3 or 4 sentences before checking in for understanding.

2.) Use “I” statements.  These statements identify specifically what you think, feel or experience.  For example, “I feel hurt when you don’t discuss your day with me.  It is important to me that we reflect on our days together.”

3.) Be specific.  Give concrete example of behavior and what it is that is troublesome for you.  Example:  “For the past week you have gone directly to bed without talking to me.”  Next, you could use the “I” statement from above.

4.) Check-in frequently to make sure your message is being accurately received.  After you have shared 3 or 4 sentences ask for the listener to paraphrase what they have understood you to say.

LISTENER guidelines:

1.)  Wait for the speaker to stop speaking and then paraphrase what you have understood them to say including the emotion they are expressing.  This is not the same as saying word for word what the other person has said, rather it is expressing the general meaning and/or emotion that the speaker shared.  For example; “I am understanding that you are hurt by the fact that we have not had time to talk before going to bed.”

2.) After paraphrasing ask if you have understood the message correctly.  Simply ask “Is that correct?”  “Am I understanding you correctly?”  By doing this you are allowing the speaker the opportunity to clarify their position or more accurately express their emotion, if you have misunderstood them in any way.  If you have understood them correctly you are allowing them an opportunity to validate that you have in fact understood the message they were trying to communicate.  If you have understood them correctly you then switch roles and repeat the process until both parties are satisfied that they have been adequately (although perhaps not perfectly ) understood by the other person.

3.) Pay attention to your own physical responses to the messages you are hearing.  Make sure you are not engaging in any of the dangerous communication styles.  (see article https://confidenthope.blog/2019/04/03/dangerous-communication/)  If you find yourself engaging in dangerous communication you can always request a “time out”.  (see article https://confidenthope.blog/?s=time+out)

Once both individuals are satisfied that the problem and needs have been identified you can then move on to the problem solving portion of the discussion.

PROBLEM SOLVING: 

1.)  Share specifically what you would like the outcome to be.  Example:  “I would like for you to spend time with me before bed talking to me about your day and asking me about my day.”  Then add how that could benefit both of you.  “If you were to do that I would feel less lonely and we would be more connected and have a stronger relationship.”  If both individuals are in agreement then the conversation can finish there.

2.) Brainstorming.  Think of all possible solutions to your problem and write them down.  Even write down solutions that seem unfeasible or undesirable.  Write out the pros and cons of each solution.  Together narrow the list down to viable options.  In those options try to uncover common ground and win/win solutions.Try to determine which areas you already are both in agreement on and decide on solutions where both of you “win”.

3.)  Compromise.  Try to determine which areas you are willing to give up or let go of without jeopardizing your self respect, morals, or boundaries.  There may be an area where you are able to practice being sacrificial out of love for the other person.

4.) Take a break.  If there are no satisfactory options for  a solution you can take some time to brainstorm some options, or take a break and come back to the conversation at a later date and try to share some new possible solutions.

Special note:  When you try this technique out you may find it helpful to first start with a topic that is a topic that you do not feel very passionately about.  As you get more skilled with the technique you can try it in other areas that are more emotionally charged for you and your partner.  By choosing a topic with low emotional intensity you are allowing yourself the freedom to practice your skills as a speaker and as a listener.  At first it may not seem like you are accomplishing much, but in reality you are learning the art of effective communication which will go a long way in enhancing all your relationships.

DEVOTIONAL:

Why is being quick to listen and understand so hard?  I assume it is because we want to fix things, to appear knowledgeable, to share our opinions and thoughts.  It is easy to hear what someone else is saying or struggling with and quickly share our expertise.  Unfortunately this often leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and arguments.  In our haste to solve things we forget to listen to the details, the deeper meanings, and true underlying needs and fears.  The bible often warns us to pay attention to our speech, it talks about the power of our words to bring healing and life, or destruction and death.  We are encouraged to truly listen to others, to try to understand their perspective and their reasoning.  This can be especially challenging if we have our own agenda and opinions.  Sadly, when it comes to listening to understand we often fall short.  We can’t seem to listen to the debate without jumping in and attacking the other side with our own reasons and truth supporting our own viewpoint.   This does nothing to create peace nor does it bring justice, all it does is create anger, despair and division.  In our quest to be understood, have things our own way or be “right” we can inadvertently push the other person aside and destroy our relationships.  Jesus was a master communicator.  I can imagine him lingering with people and listening to their stories.  I can imagine him asking them questions that would draw them out of their shells and give a voice to what was happening in their hearts.  I can imagine him listening to their pain and suffering without condemnation, then offering a perfect mixture of truth and grace which would ultimately bring hope, healing and solutions.   One of the many examples is when Jesus was talking to Peter and asking him “Do you love me?”, and allowing Peter to ponder the rich meaning of the question.  I can imagine Jesus took time with the conversation.  He didn’t demand an apology.  He didn’t rehash every detail of how Peter went wrong.  He didn’t crush Peter with all the “facts” of why he should have listened to him.  Instead, he allowed for clarification, for responses, for back and forth discussion, until the true meaning of what He was saying was clear to Peter.  In this brief conversation you can see the elements of respect, restoration, and love.  This should be our goal in our conversations; to leave others better then when we found them.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, 

Guard my mouth.  I often am quick to speak.  I can unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally, say things that hurt other people.  Sometimes I am so quick to share my thoughts and my answers that I forget to even take the time to figure out what the real issue is or I ignore the fact that the other person might have information that I do not have.  Help me to value and respect all people.  Give me the grace to listen.  Teach me to hear what others are saying and to look for common ground.  Allow me to share truth bravely and clearly without being mean spirited or hurtful.  Uncover the motivations of my own heart, weed out anything that would get in the way of me being able to point others to you.  Let my interactions be marked by truth, love and respect.  

In Jesus Name, Amen

SCRIPTURE VERSES:

James 1:19 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this, everyone should be slow to speak, quick to listen and slow to become angry,”

Proverbs 10:19 “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.”

Ephesians 4:29  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 18:2  “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”

 

TIME OUT!: When and how to take a break from a conversation when things are going badly.

Take a breakYou know the feeling, you are in a “heated discussion” and you can feel the heat rising in you, you spew out venomous words that pierce the heart of person you are speaking to.  You can hear yourself speaking and know that you need to stop but you just can’t seem to keep your mouth shut.  Or perhaps you’re able to say nice words but your face is exposing the truth of what you are thinking.  Or maybe you’re not the one causing the trouble (with your words and/or face) this time….perhaps you have been the one on the receiving end of this kind of treatment.  Whether you are the giver or the receiver these are not fun conversations to be a part of, and honestly they are not typically productive.  So what can you do in these situations?

One thing that can sometimes be helpful is taking a break from the conversation.  Often when you notice that you are engaging in a form of negative communication you may need to step back and regroup before trying to re-engage in the conversation.  (For more information on negative or dangerous communication check out this article  https://confidenthope.blog/2019/04/03/dangerous-communication/The following are some practical tips on when and how to take a break from the conversation.

KNOW WHEN YOU NEED A BREAK.  Ask yourself about your own behavior:  1.) Am I just repeating myself over and over?  2.)  Have I completely shut down?  3.) Am I consistently interrupting them to defend myself or make a point?  3.) Am I treating being disrespectful with my words (cussing at them, name calling) 4.)  Am I thinking of what I am going to say next while they are talking instead of trying to listen to them?   5.) Am I yelling/screaming/being physically violent?  If you answered “yes” to any of these a break may be a good idea.  If you answered “yes” to number 5 you definitely need a break.

Consider their behavior. 1.)  Are they completely ignoring you/shutting you out?  2.)  Are they just saying what you want to hear so the conversation will end?  3.)  Are they constantly interrupting you, talking over you, twisting your words?  4.)  Are they making sweeping generalizations, making excuses, casting blame,  or trying to shame or humiliate you? Are they yelling, screaming, verbally demeaning you, threatening you, intimidating you, or physically harming you?

If you answered “yes”  to any one of these you need to take a break from the conversation.

Consider the conversation.  1.)  Has the conversation stalled?  You both just keep repeating the same things over and over with no new understanding or solutions.  2.)  Are you all over the place with the conversation topic discussing EVERY issue instead of focusing on the issue at hand?  3.)  Are the points that are being made mostly vague generalizations that consist of words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘everybody’, ‘nobody’?

If you answered “yes” to any one of these you may need to take a break from the conversation.

HOW TO TAKE A BREAK

Here is the common scenario:  One person gets fed up.  Screams “I’M DONE!!!”  Leaves and slams the door.  At some undefined point the person returns, possibly there is an apology or perhaps the silent treatment.  Sometimes one of the people is still angry and becomes passive aggressive (think slamming pots and pans, murmuring under the breath or goes silent) while the other one is ready to move on and just ignore what happened.  Obviously this does not work, yet we do it all the time.  Both people are still angry, there is no structure, no closure, no guidelines, and worst of all the problems are still there.   But there is hope, there is a better way…. Consider this what if one person took responsibility for saying they needed a break, offered a time when they could re-engage in the conversation and had a plan of what they would do with their time during the break.  Here is what that might sound like:  “I know this is important, but I really need a break from this conversation right now.   I’m so frustrated I can’t think right.  I’m going to go to the gym for an hour and will be back by 7:00.  That will give me some time to cool down so I can really try to work through this with you.”  I believe that would go a lot better then the previous scenario.  So how can you make this happen?

Here are some guidelines:

1.) Discuss the concept of “taking a break” with your partner PRIOR to any heated discussions.  Agree together that this is something you are both willing to try.  Review the rules together and agree on them.  Don’t wait until the middle of an argument to try to explain and initiate the concept.

2.)  Use I statements when calling for a break.  “I feel (emotion).  I need a break.  I am going to go do (state activity) and will come back at (time) to revisit this conversation.”

3.)  You can only ask for a break for yourself.  You do not get to say, “It seems like you are getting really angry.  You should take a break and cool off.”  You can say, “I am frustrated and need a break from the conversation.”

4.)  You cannot refuse to grant the other person the break request.  This may be difficult because there are often things that need to be discussed and timing is important.  In those cases you may need to allow the person to take the break, but also continue forward with necessary action until the disagreement is resolved.  When you are wanting to continue the discussion and the other person has called for a break, try to remember that nothing will get resolved by them staying in the conversation when they are stating that they need a break.

5.)  If you are calling for a break you need to have a time limit for the break.  Breaks can be anywhere from 5-10 minutes, to 24 hours depending on how much time you think you will need to collect your thoughts, cool your emotions, and try to understand the perspective of the other person.  Breaks should not last longer then 24 hours.  At the end of the break you need to re-initiate the conversation.

6.) You need to have a plan for during your break.  Find something that helps you to relieve physical and emotional stress.  Some ideas are:  exercise, journaling, music prayer, meditation, etc. Your break should NOT include alcohol or drugs since these substances may interfere with your ability to maintain emotional regulation.

7.)  Both partners need to take reflect during the break.  Try to think through what the other person was saying.  Is it possible that you were you misunderstanding them?  Try to really understand their perspective even if you do not agree with them.  Also consider your own behaviors.  Which dangerous communication patterns did you engage in?  Is there anything you owe them an apology for?  Try to re-think of ways you can state what you were trying say so that it is able to be ‘heard’ by the other person.  Is there any common ground in the discussion you can both share?

8.)  Re-engage in the conversation at the time you promised.  By adhering to your commitment to revisit the the conversation at the agreed on time you are building trust in your relationship.  If you are still too frustrated to engage in the conversation, at least go to your partner and let them know you need a little more time.  Set another time and come back and try again then.

BUT WHY GO THROUGH ALL THIS?

You may be asking why is this even necessary?  Maybe you’re saying, “Isn’t better if I just let it all out, vent my feelings, rather than keeping it all bottled up?”  Or perhaps you thoughts are more along the line of “if I just keep quiet this will all pass and we can move on”.  But the truth is that in most cases we need to have tools to appropriately handle conflict in ways that address the issues at hand while maintaining the dignity of the other person and our self respect.  Taking a break accomplishes these things.  It allows for you to set boundaries on behaviors you will not tolerate.  It gives you the structure to ask for and get your needs met.  It helps prevent you from engaging in behaviors that may cause harm to the other person.  Lastly, it helps to build the character traits of self discipline, perseverance, as well as building confidence, trust and hope in the relationship.

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

I confess that it is really, REALLY hard to give up an argument and take a break when I believe I am right, or that what I have to say is important.  I ask that you help me to follow your example of love, discipline, and sacrifice.  Help me to use words that are kind, true and necessary.  Help me to not be so determined to prove my point that I forget to lift you up and allow room for your Holy Spirit to work.

Sometimes, it is difficult for me to even recognize that I need a break during a conversation.  Please through your spirit keep my eyes open to times when I need to step away from others and draw near to you.  Place your hand over my mouth so that no unwholesome words pass through.  Teach me to trust in you and your ability to bring clarity, unity , peace, and true victory.

Thank you for loving me even when I act less then lovely.  Protect those who have to patiently tolerate my outbursts.  Surround me with people who will faithfully speak truth to me and encourage me to love others as you do.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE VERSES

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.  James 3:2

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  James 1:19

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Dangerous Communication

Communication is the essence of good relationships.  When we communicate well with others we feel empowered and respected.  When communication breaks down relationships become strained and sources of stress rather than enjoyment.  In fact one of the number one difficulties couples admit to having in their relationships is poor communication.

Scripture has a lot to say about communication and how we use our words.  In the book of James it talks about how such a small part of our bodies (our tongue) has such power and can do tremendous destruction.  In the book of Ephesians it gives instructions on how we are to only speak words that will build people up or in other ways be beneficial to them.  In fact all through out scripture we are given instructions regarding how to communicate.  Still many of us struggle when we are “in the moment” of a heated or uncomfortable conversation.  Let’s examine a few of the types of dangerous ways in which we communicate that sabotage our relationships and what we can do about them.

NEGATIVE INTERPRETATION:  is when you evaluate another persons actions, thoughts, feelings or intentions negatively without checking the facts.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  Check the facts!  You do not have the ability to read the mind or know the feelings of other individuals.  It is up to them to tell you what they are thinking and feeling.

What to do if you think it is being done to you:  One thing you can do if you believe that someone may be misunderstanding you is to ask them to repeat what they are hearing you say.  Another thing you can do is restate, specifically and concisely what you are thinking or feeling and the reasons behind those thoughts and feelings.

BLAMING, SHAMING, DEFENSIVENESS:  is when you turn the focus in a negative way on to the other person.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  This can be really hard because typically when you are the one doing it you are feeling guilty, ashamed, frustrated or attacked and this is your way of getting out of the conversation.  When you feel this way it is really hard to listen to what the other person is saying.  You may need to take a break from the conversation while you evaluate what your underlying feelings are and the reasons why you feel like you do.  When you do re-engage in the conversation try to really listen to what the other person is saying without commenting on WHY you did or didn’t do or say something.

What if it is being done to you:  Typically this is done as a means of derailing the conversation and getting it off track so the other person will not feel pressure.  If you are the target of the the blame and shame you will need to continue to stick to the topic at hand (even if you sound like a broken record), identify specific feelings and behaviors, and avoid generalizations.  It may be helpful to stick to very specific facts and I statements.  For example:  “I feel overwhelmed when I see the sink full of dishes.”

WITHDRAWL: (also known as stone-walling) is when a person shuts down and refuses to engage in the conversation.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  Try to determine why it is that you are shutting down.  Do you feel attacked?  Do you believe that the other person is not listening to you or hearing you?  Do you believe that it is an argument that always gets talked about and never gets solved?  Do you feel like you are in a no win situation?  Once you have identified your thoughts and feelings you can then try to engage in the conversation using the ‘speaker-listener’ technique or request a ‘time out’ to collect your thoughts and resume the conversation at a later time.

What if it is being done to you:  You can identify the behavior and take on the listener role in order to try to understand the other person’s point of view and move the conversation forward.  If you are unable to move the conversation forward you can ask for a ‘time out’ in an effort to allow tensions cool down and resume the conversation at a later time.

INVALIDATION:  is what we think of as classic teenage behavior…think rolling the eyes, using sweeping generalizations such as always and never, sarcasm, mimicking, etc.  Basically it is anything (verbal or body language) that seeks to devalue the other person.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  Try to be aware of your body language, especially your face!    Use words that are accurate and clearly describe and reflect specifically what is going on.  Avoid generalizations.  Acknowledge when you engage in an invalidating response, apologize, and try again to listen respectfully or speak.

What if it is being done to you:  Respectfully acknowledge the behavior and request that it stop.  If the behavior continues let them know that you will not continue in the discussion until they can treat you respectfully.

ESCALATION: includes yelling, screaming, cussing, name calling,  belittling, intimidating, and threatening.  Once either person is engaging in escalation it is unlikely that any healthy progress will be made in the communication.  Additionally, if escalation is allowed to continue without being stopped to can lead can to emotional and/or physical abuse.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  As soon as you notice you are escalating  take a break from the discussion to regain your composure.  During your break from the conversation make sure you engage in activities that will cool your anger.  Some good examples are: exercise, breathing techniques, meditation, or journaling.  After you have cooled down you may realize you need to apologize or maybe you become aware that you may not have completely understood the other person’s point of view.  If either of these are the case, apologize first and then take the role of the listener and try again to understand what the other person was trying to communicate.

What if it is being done to you:  If you are in a conversation and the other person is escalating you can try to inform the other person that you will not continue the conversation if they continue with the escalating behavior.  For example:  “I will not continue with this conversation if you are going to call me names.”  If the behavior continues stop the conversation and remove yourself from the area.  You can re-engage once you and the other person have had some time to cool off.  If the behavior has continued to the point where you are in a physically dangerous situation or the person will not allow you to leave the discussion you may need to seek additional help from legal authorities or from other professionals?

SELF REFLECTION:

Which of the communication styles above is your “go to” when you are angry, hurt, or frustrated?  Let me challenge you to work on changing that.  Here are a couple of ideas:  1.)  Ask someone who is close to you which one of the styles they have experienced you using and have them share how it made them feel.  Do this without rationalizing, explaining or defending your behavior.  Your only job is to listen to their feedback.  2.)  Prepare ahead of time for conversations that you know may be challenging.  Visualize yourself engaging in the conversation in a healthy manner.  Practice words that will move the conversation rather than stop the conversation.  Be intent on LISTENING to and REALLY HEARING what the other person is trying to communicate.  3.)  Catch yourself in the act of engaging in that behavior and intentionally stop and try to re-engage in the conversation in a healthier manner.

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, 

I really truly want my words to be used as a means of encouraging and inspiring others. Teach me how to communicate well.  Teach me to not put up barriers when communicating with others.  Open my eyes and ears so that I might see the ways I allow my words and actions to interfere with communication.  Also, help me to draw out others so that when they communicate with me they feel safe sharing with me knowing that I am really trying to hear and understand them.  Bless my communication so that it might be pleasing to you and respectful to others.

In Jesus Name- Amen 

BIBLE VERSES:

We put a small piece of metal in the mouth of a horse to make it obey us. We can control the whole animal with it. And how about ships? They are very big. They are driven along by strong winds. But they are steered by a very small rudder. It makes them go where the captain wants to go. In the same way, the tongue is a small part of a person’s body. But it talks big. Think about how a small spark can set a big forest on fire.  James 3:3-5

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29