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Slippery Conversations

Have you ever been doing your best to be heard, repeating and clarifying and still the conversation slips away from you and you don't feel heard?

Often what is missing is simple turn taking.  Let's take an example with Jonah and Alexis.  Alexis expresses clearly her observation, feeling, need, and then asks Jonah to say back what he heard.  Jonah really wants to meet Alexis' need to be heard, but is feeling vulnerable and needing understanding so he mixes what he heard with what he wants to say.

For example, Alexis offers this neutral observation along with her feelings and needs: "When you left around 7 that evening and didn't return until after 1am, I felt . . . ."  Instead of giving back the neutral observation, Jonah says, "When I left that evening to comfort my friend  whose mother had died".  He begins to tell his story here without first hearing his partner.  He goes on and little bits of his story appear in the midst of otherwise clear reflection of what Alexis said.  She feels confused with this.  She wants to honor that he did get much of what she said and at the same time has a sense that he didn't.  Mixing his story with her experience doesn't make space for her experience to stand alone and be valid.

There are several ways to avoid this trap.

1.  Ask to be heard and then reassure your partner that you want to hear their experience too.

2.  Start with the clarity that you want your experience to be heard rather than argue a memory of what really happened.

3.  Own the fact that all experience is subjective by using phrases like:  "As I remember it",  "It seemed to me",  "My perception was".  "I told myself the story that", "My interpretation was" , etc.

4.  Set up regular and intentional conversations in which you take turns giving and receiving empathy.

5.  Use a talking stick to remind each other who the speaker is.  The person without the talking stick can offer empathy and ask clarifying questions, but doesn't express any of their experience until holding the stick.

This week practice reflecting back someone's experience to them and notice if you start to tell your own story before checking to see if they feel heard.

***click here for a list of feelings and universal needs

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1 Response

  1. Mar 19, 2009

    Glad you put the movements of A&J's conversation under the microscope! This helped me to notice the movement and jumbling of A&J's needs and feelings. The length of the GEM was appropriate as well as the summary.

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