Change a Word—Change Your Life

 

Many years ago, I’d often fall into a recurring disagreement with my former wife. At bedtime I’d frequently find myself saying, “It’s hot in here.” She’d respond, “No it’s not, it’s cold. ‘’ This led to a frustrating ,mind-numbing back and forth that went nowhere.  It took quite some time until I reached a breakthrough by simply saying, “I feel hot.” After all she couldn’t tell me I didn’t feel hot.

By removing the words—it is— I moved from making an objective statement to a subjective statement. This allowed me to shift from a battle over the truth into simply sharing my perception. Of course, that didn’t settle the issue around the thermostat, but nevertheless I felt some relief to get past that argument. I did, however get proactive about throwing the blanket off my side of the bed.

I remembered that exchange and started to focus on the importance of words. We pay very little attention to the words we express and don’t appreciate how profoundly they affect us and impact others.

Over the last 20 some odd years, in my work as a psychotherapist and communications consultant, I’ve devoted my attention to understanding what gets in the way of successful communications. I’ve learned that words matter very much. Our words either set the stage for others to be open and curious about what we say or defensive and reactive to what they hear.

Our words become the foundation of our relationship not only with others but they become a key ingredient in our relationship with ourselves.

 Our thoughts actually script our life experience. These thoughts impact us far more than anything else, more than our closest relationships. But what comprises our thoughts? Words.

When we string words together they become thoughts.  Some words in particular terribly limit us. I’m referring to the to be verbs. We can find them in virtually every sentence we speak. Recall the word is, in the battle over the room temperature?

The to be verbs are:

Are

Am

Is

Was

Be

Been

Being

So why do I see a problem with the to be verbs?  Let’s take a look.

 

Keeping us feeling stuck

Many verbs express movement and action. But the to be verbs have one element in common. They all connote a fixed, unchanging state. The to be verbs are all inert and static.

None of these words capture a picture of change or flow. So, if words inform our thoughts and if we employ the to be verbs in virtually every thought, how can we feel anything but stuck? Let’s look at the word am.  “I am worthless,” or “I’m unlovable.”  These beliefs collapse into truths as they become unchanging facts in the story we tell ourselves..  How can we envision and actualize change if our thoughts get stuck in an unchanging, inert picture of reality?

The to be verbs block new possibilities. They block movement.

 

It’s hard to change

Let’s look at the common refrain, “It’s hard to change.” Most people would agree with this belief. Of course, change would appear challenging when we our thoughts are cemented in the to be verbs that preclude change.

Let’s look at what happens when we make the statement, “It’s hard to change,” without using to be verbs. You might say, “I struggle to change, or “It feels so hard for me to make change.” Or, “I’ve never succeeded in making change.” These statements still appear amenable to change. They speak to subjective perceptions rather than facts. Change can happen when you shift from making an absolute statement of fact to one of perspective.

 

E -Prime

In 1933, Alfred Korzybsky in his groundbreaking book, Science and Sanity introduced the idea of eliminating the to be verbs from our common usage. He proposed that the to be verbs were relics of an old worldview; Newton’s 17th century mechanism. This classical view of reality depicted a machine-like universe comprised of objects, separate and distinct from one another. They appeared inert and fixed unless outside force was applied. We became these objects. The lack of connectivity seen in Newton’s reality, led to the ideal of objectivity. This construct of objectivity requires standing apart from what you observe; Newton’s theme of separation.

This picture of the universe presented a cold, austere machine-like reality. This looks like a very inhospitable place for humans to exist.  The to be verbs speak the language of the machine-like universe in that fixed objects and objectivity were accorded primacy. These words preclude movement, possibility and potentiality. And so once again, we see ourselves as stuck. This has an immense and unimaginable impact on us.

At the time of Korzybski’s writing, the radical discoveries of quantum physics turned our notions of reality upside down. We came to learn that reality appeared radically different than what Newton had depicted. This emerging worldview described reality as perpetually flowing and bubbling with possibility, a virtual reality making process, with all parts inseparably connected with one another. Everything flowed as one inseparable whole. From this new worldview change no longer appears hard, it in fact seems inevitable.

The thesis of an objective reality became replaced by a participatory subjective reality. This new worldview looks very warm and friendly to humans, as human participation informs reality and we no longer see ourselves as disconnected objects. To access and benefit from this new vista of reality we need to alter our language since the to be verbs keep us stuck in 17th century reality. Korzybski urged that we speak and write without using to be verbs. He called this E-Prime language— the omission of to be verbs.

 When I became aware of this shift in language I began to utilize it as a transformative communications technique. During my years as a therapist I’ve come to see the remarkable progress many people have made when they learned to limit these verbs, particularly in challenging communications moments. Let’s look at more of the benefits.

 

 To be verbs keeps us stuck in victimhood

Our negative feelings and thoughts about ourselves become inveterate due to our use of to be. These verbs imprint their message on us as they keep us wedded to them. I recall working with a middle-aged woman who constantly insisted that she was stupid. She said, “I am stupid.” I asked, “How did you come to this belief?” She replied, “My dad often said that to me when I was a kid, so I’ve always felt stupid. I ruminated with her, “So maybe you “are” not stupid, but have always simply felt that way?” This exchange opened the door for her to reconsider this aspect of her identity. If she always felt that way, she could open to changing how she felt. We shifted from objective reality to perceptually constructed truth.

Look at your negative beliefs about yourself. Notice the to be verb— surely, you’ll find it— and restate your belief without to be.

 I facilitated a self-esteem workshop a number of years ago when a man in the group shared his core self-worth problem. “I am nothing, I am empty.” Everyone felt stunned by his candid sharing. I asked him to restate his belief without using the to be verb. He said, “I feel like nothing, I feel empty.” His expression lightened when he said this and he actually allowed himself a bit of a smile. I asked him why and he responded, “If these feelings I have change, then I can change.”

 To be verbs anchor us in feeling inert, powerless and as victims. They speak of objective truths rather than perceptions and feelings.

 

Getting past the fear of making mistakes

When we speak in E-Prime, it enables us to move beyond our fear of making mistakes. When you communicate from your subjective perception—the language of the new quantum worldview—you avoid the pitfall of right vs. wrong. When you say, “I think,” or “I feel,” you invite the other person into your experience.

 During a consulting gig I facilitated with a C-suite executive, she shared a bold and innovative perspective she had about a particular challenge the organization faced. When I asked her why she hadn’t shared this with her colleagues, she told me she felt intimidated about their judgment of her idea. I helped her craft the message by using E-Prime. “I have a thought I’d like to share about our problem…” or, “This may sound a bit out of the box but an approach occurred to me that we never considered before.” If you simply share your thoughts, perspectives or ideas in a subjective manner you move past the fear of mistakes or right vs. wrong.

 

Free from the dread of making a mistake or concern around the judgments of others invites all participants to share their thoughts and perspectives. This leads to generative dialogues as we can share our inner monologues with one another. This serves as a powerful tool for learning as we begin to think together. The art of thinking together and collaborating flourishes with E-Prime. This method applies to corporations, families, relationships, to all communications.

 

Relationships

I’ve witnessed how relationships become challenged and deteriorate when we share criticism of one another in an objective manner. Objective statements require to be verbs. Subjective statements avoid to be verbs.

 Nothing derails a conversation as quickly as, “You are wrong.” To express these words assures that your thoughts and opinions will fall on deaf ears and go nowhere. The moment one utters, “You are wrong,” the other person reacts with defensiveness if not hostility. Shift into E-Prime and say, “I don’t see this the way you do,” or “Help me understand your point, I don’t see this the way you do.” This can open the door to a reasonable communication.

I recollect a particular moment in a couple’s session when a woman said to her husband, “You are so selfish.”  She expressed an objective statement. The air thickened as her husband prepared his defense and verbal assault upon her. I requested a time out and prepped her to share her feelings in E-Prime. Her subjective offering of “You seem so self-centered to me,” allowed her husband to inquire why she saw him that way. A purposeful dialogue ensued.

E-Prime allows us to take ownership of our thoughts and feelings rather than to blame ourselves or others. This opens us to dialogue, compassion and empathy as we get past right vs wrong.,

When you feel particularly challenged or anticipate a negative reaction to what you’re about to say try using E-Prime. Open your sentence with the words “I feel,” or “I think,” or “I’d like to share a thought or feeling with you.” You don’t need to be fanatical about this. Choosing particular moments to speak without using to be verbs allows you to move past feeling like stuck. It also opens the doorway to generative dialogue. It may feel awkward at first but when you invite in discomfort you grow and advance into new territory. You can hoist the anchor that’s kept you feeling stuck when you selectively choose to speak without to be verbs.

 To be verbs End possibilities. E-Prime opens the doorway to possibilities and shifts us from a stuck state of being into the process of becoming. We can then join in the flow of the universe that the new worldview describes when we unshackle ourselves from the words that imprison us.

Please note that all to be verbs in this article appear italicized for effect. This article was the topic of Mel’s TEDx Beacon Street talk at Fenway Park and was excerpted in part from his new book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.

 

 

 

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Do you Have Real Conversations?

For the most part we rarely engage in genuine conversations with one another. We rely upon formatted questions and answers that we exchange with each other, our words resembling ping-pong balls being sent to and fro. We deliver and parse data with each another and ordinarily leave the engagement more or less the same as when we entered it, save the uploading of new information. But we aren’t truly conversing. We aren’t sharing our true self- only the part we want seen-the safe part.

Real conversations require our full participation. This is the space where two people participate in an unfolding conversation. Genuine conversations invite the sense of “us” the space where a participatory reality unfolds. How do we achieve this authentic experience of conversation?

To do so, we must let our guard down. The barrier that we build to protect how we want to be seen precludes authentic conversation. Socially learned rules of engagement isolate us as they instruct us against appearing weak, vulnerable, ignorant, assertive or unhappy. These exchanges betray our authentic being and thwart our growth, individually and relationally.

When we release our need to be seen in a particular way we can then move into the space between the other and me. In this space there arises the potential for a participatory unfolding of two people where the conversation isn’t predictable or predetermined.

This engagement moves well beyond the transactional exchange of data points. “What have you been up to?” prompts “Oh I’m so busy with the kids and vacation plans I don’t have a minute to come up for air.” Or ask, “How’s the job going?” and you can anticipate, “Pretty good, can’t complain.” The proverbial, “How are you?” necessitates the automatic, “Good, and you?” There’s no conversation occurring in these exchanges. These transactions are routine, robotic and self-protective. And they are dehumanizing.

To enter into authentic conversation—the realm of participatory relationship—requires that I drop my defenses and release my armor. When I embrace my vulnerability and allow the conversation to enter the realm of the uncertain— the possibilities of genuine engagement are summoned.

When the conversation enters into unknown territory don’t pull it back into the retreat of the familiar. Ask a new question, one which you’ve never considered and be present for the response. Or share a part of yourself that you’ve kept hidden. In the unfamiliarity of a new dialogue, you’ve both entered a sacred space, a space that allows you both to truly relate. A real conversation is an adventure into the unfamiliar where two people present their authentic self, unguarded and welcoming the uncertain. This is where new possibilities await.

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5 Principles That Unleash Your Power of Communication

dialogueWhat could be more important than acquiring a strong command of our communication?  We know that these skills are essential for enjoying successful relationships, building prosperous careers, and attaining genuine self-esteem. Learning to communicate effectively–and convincingly–provides us with the opportunity to live a fearless and resilient life.  Here are 5 primary principles that can unleash your personal power.

 

 Principle 1.   Surrender the NEED to be right
In marital counseling I may at times ask people: Would you rather be right or rather be loved (happy)? Although virtually everyone says they would prefer happiness, the battle soon retreats to right vs. wrong. We turn our relationships into a debate. If you pause and consider it, it’s really insane isn’t it? The very fact that we’d mindlessly choose to win an argument at the cost of damaging our relationships points to something terribly amiss.

 

The need to win an argument assures that no one is actively listening. Feeling loved, cared for and validated is nullified by the drive to be right. If I need to be right, and we have differing points of view, that obviously makes you wrong. Doesn’t exactly sound like the stuff of friendships, let alone romantic relations. This compulsion to be right sidetracks our lives and impedes our learning and happiness. The need to be right, to win at all costs, is antithetical to enjoying empathic and compassionate relationships.
 

 

Principle 2. The 5% Rule — Turing Conflict into Collaboration
When we find ourselves in an argumentative, adversarial back and forth, the instinct is to win — to find a part of what the other person is saying that we can refute. Having done so they likely reciprocate the argumentative energy and both parties are left feeling unheard and frustrated. Rather than trying to score a point, try instead to suspend that instinct. Don’t look for what you disagree with as fodder to dispute.  Instead find a small percentage – let’s call it 5% –of what the other person is saying that you can agree with and therefore validate.  We can usually find some part of what the other is saying that me might concur with.
You can immediately apply the 5% Rule in your communications with others-whether your intimate partner, a friend or relative.  Challenge yourself to search for a small piece of what they are saying that you can affirm. Once the other person feels heard and, moreover, affirmed, he or she may be in a far better position to take in what you have to say. Timing is essential here. You cannot just say, “Yes, but. . . .” That is part of the process of invalidating. Instead, validate something, pause, and let the conciliatory spirit fill the space that would otherwise be occupied by the noisy back and forth of argumentation. That shift of energy now becomes fertile ground for a meaningful transition and constructive exchange. If you rush to reassert your own position, your affirmation looks disingenuous.
 
Principle 3.  Shared Meaning
When we use certain words and expressions we assume they mean the same thing to all of us. They don’t. And this contributes to misunderstandings and fractured communication. The absence of shared meaning can be ruinous. In my first session with Jerry and Diane, a longtime married couple, I inquired as to how I might help them. Diane, without pause, proclaimed, “He has no idea how to be intimate.” Jerry immediately tightened and shot back, “I have no idea how to be intimate? I have no problem at all with intimacy, it’s you that does.”
 I intervened and said, “I’m not at all sure what you each mean by the word intimacy. Can you each take a moment and share with each other what this word means for you?”
After a noticeable pause, Jerry explained that intimacy for him ranged from physical affection all the way to sexual intercourse. As he was speaking, Diane looked incredulous. “You must be kidding me, that’s not at all what I mean,” she proclaimed. I encouraged her to go further. Not surprisingly, she spoke of sharing deep feelings and thoughts with each other in a safe, nonjudgmental way. Once we exposed this essential misunderstanding, born out of miscommunication, the couple was able to engage in a meaningful exchange of their actual needs and preferences-for what was clearly the first time.
We take for granted that our words convey what we intend. In my experience this assumption is grossly misinformed because most often our words tend not to be received in the way we have in mind. By the time many couples exchange a few sentences, a totally misconstrued interaction often prevails.
Neither party is sharing the same conversation; their internal monologues have branched off as they react to a word or phrase in a way that the other party may not have intended. This results in a virtual loss of coherent communication, compounded by the fact that both parties may be totally unaware of this. The miscommunication may elicit further damage; feelings become hurt as an emotional landslide occurs.
To pause and ask what the other person meant by the words they’ve just spoken is remarkably respectful. We need to check in and confirm that we are on the same page.What someone thinks I’ve said is ultimately more important than what I was intending because it can disrupt the entire purpose of the exchange. And so, I must be thoughtful and selective in my choice of words, increasing the likelihood that I’m understood clearly. As Abraham Lincoln said, “We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.
Principle 4. Shared Inquiry — Dialogue
We typically misuse the word dialogue. A dialogue is far from two or more people conversing about an agreed upon topic. I’d call that exchange a conversation or a discussion, in which each individual tries to put forth a point of view. This type of interaction plays out on the surface, and little new learning or insight typically occurs. Given a lack of consensus or even a full-blown disagreement, we might expect each person to repudiate any opposing positions. The communication breaks down into a frustrating back and forth like a Ping-Pong match. Each party clings to their own subjective truth, but presents it as the objective reality, and the conversation collapses without anyone feeling understood or validated.
 So what exactly do I mean by this word dialogue? I would define it as a shared inquiry, temporarily suspending your assumptions and beliefs to further the process of shared meaning. A shared inquiry has no opposing sides but instead is a coming together, which demands listening. The root of dialogue is dia-logos (through words), which implies a flow of meaning. This type of exchange is foreign in our culture because we are so much more driven toward winning-making our point-than sharing meaning and seeking new learning.
The irony is that the only authentic winning comes from understanding, listening, and validating another’s point of view-not from vanquishing it-even if we’re not in agreement. To accommodate this shift in communication, we must learn to still the reactive pull of our thoughts, upend our compulsion to be right, and learn the art of listening. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument.”
 
Principle 5. The Art of Listening
Our thoughts get in the way of our ability to listen. Old, habitual thoughts, summoned from the archives of every lived moment we’ve experienced, incline us toward re-presenting the past so that we are not truly present and, of course, not listening. Unless the individual with whom we are communicating is expressing something that corresponds with our own beliefs, we tend to repudiate or deflect anything that seems to be in opposition. To listen closely, we need to note any disturbances created from our thoughts, feelings, and reactions and suspend them for a time. If we can see our reaction, we don’t have to become the reaction. We temporarily avoid taking a position. If we don’t, we can’t be present to listen.
Dialogue and listening are noncompetitive. No one is trying to be right; instead, we seek to understand and appreciate, which, in turn, ordinarily reciprocates with our being understood and validated. When we inquire together and suspend our pre-existing beliefs, we gain deeper insight into the other’s thoughts and feelings.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Do I appreciate what the other person trying to convey?
Is it more important for me to correct their misstatements or to stay present and listen?
Would I rather be right or engage in genuine dialogue?
Am I judging or listening?
Watch your thoughts, they’ll inform the answer.
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How are you?

helloMany times a day we may walk past an acquaintance and say, “Hi, how are you?” The other person smiles, says, “good and you?” And we likely respond similarly. Are we both always good? That’s a rhetorical question of course. A few years ago I was taking a walk on my way for a cup of coffee. I encountered a parking attendant with whom I was familiar outside of a neighborhood restaurant I frequented. This gentleman and I had a number of engaging conversations in the past and so I asked the predictable, “How are you doing Jacques?” He smiled and said, “I can’t complain.” I smiled back and continued on my walk.

Moments later I had a thought. His answer might suggest two different things. Either Jacques has nothing to complain about or he literally couldn’t allow himself to complain, emphasis on the word, can’t. I wondered which was the case. In a few minutes, coffee now in hand, I reencountered him. I explained to him that I wasn’t sure if he meant all was well or that he was uncomfortable complaining. It took quite awhile to break through his resistance until he finally said, “I don’t share my struggles because no one would be interested.”

I explained to Jacques that when I asked how he was, I did care and truly wanted to know. When we greet one another and robotically inquire as to how we’re doing, without either party answering honestly, it becomes an exercise in inauthenticity. We act as uncaring strangers. We cut ourselves off from human interaction.  We can do much better than that. Jacque’s belief that no one would care is of course false. I did. It may be that many wouldn’t care, but why preclude those who might?

To be true to yourself, you need to be authentic. Without going into details, your answer might sound like, “I’ve had better days.” That opens the door to a genuine interaction. You never know what might evolve from that. But at the least, you’re being honest with yourself. It’s really important to be authentic no matter what you expect from another person.

 

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The 5% Rule — Breaking Through the Argument

 

failed communicationargumentEarly in my career as a therapist, I found myself feeling frustrated in my ability to assist a couple with whom I was working. They were tirelessly mired in argument and it was like watching a Ping-Pong ball being knocked back and forth, only no points were being won or lost. This kind of flailing about represents the low point in so many of our relationships. I was searching for a way to help them slow down and listen to each other – to get past their gridlock. In the midst of one session, I reflected for a moment on how I might approach their impasse differently. I’ve learned that when I pause, get out of my own way and set my intention for an insight, it often appears. This was such a moment.

It came in the form of my asking the husband, John, (I’ve changes their names of course to protect their confidentiality) “Can you try to find just a small percentage of what Barbara is saying that you might agree with? Let’s look for just 5% you can acknowledge, and temporarily suspend the 95% you’re sure she’s wrong about.”

I was asking John to go against the grain and act counter-intuitively by neither defending himself nor trying to score a point. I explained to John that he wasn’t pleading guilty or surrendering, the goal was simply to establish a repartee so that they could hear each other. He finally managed to affirm one of his wife’s complaints and took ownership of a particular action.

I noticed that Barbara barely paused, as she was about to go right back into the argument. I raised my hand gently, suggesting to her that she reflect for a moment about how it felt to be at least partially validated. Somewhat begrudgingly she offered, “I appreciate your caring about my feelings and seeing that you did hurt me.” I then asked Barbara to validate some part of John’s issues with her and as she did so, they began to turn the corner. Their energy began to shift. A new technique was born for me—one that I now call “The 5% Rule.”

Even if you disagree with the vast majority of what you are hearing from the other person, you can ordinarily find some small content that you can acknowledge. We typically marginalize if not ignore this part because our automatic default is grounded in the right vs. wrong battle. Out thoughts seek to refute rather than confirm. Even though we say we care about each other we don’t act lovingly.

If we break free from the insane goal of winning an argument and try to find something in what the other person is saying that we might concur with, the results can be astonishing. After all, if you need to “win” that means the other person must “lose.” How do you think that works out in relationships?

Once your partner feels heard and moreover affirmed, he or she may be in a far better position to take in what you have to say. Timing is essential here. You cannot just say, “Yes, but…” That is part of the process of invalidating. Instead, affirm something, pause, and let the conciliatory spirit fill the space that would otherwise be occupied by the noisy back and forth of argumentation. That shift now becomes fertile ground for a meaningful transition and constructive exchange. If you rush to reframe or assert your own position, your affirmation appears disingenuous.

Affirming the 5% in no way means that you have to abandon your position regarding the 95% with which you disagree. You have simply laid the groundwork for the other to take in what you have to say. This process permits us to halt our addiction to being reactive and move toward being responsive. The success of this approach allows both parties to behave with compassion and empathy, cooperating rather than competing. The goal is not to win but to care. You can immediately apply the 5% Rule in your communications with others—whether it’s your intimate partner, a friend or relative or a business relationship.

Once you’ve found that small part of the other’s issues that you can validate, they’ll likely feel heard and may then open to what you have to say. What you want the other person to hear is very important! But you need to set the stage so to speak so they can take it in. From there a healthy communication might emerge. We must interrupt the compulsion to be right and our default to being reactive. When we react in an adversarial way without pausing to reflect we are just as the Ping-Pong ball. Our reactions –by definition — are not well considered or purposeful.

The 5% Rule is just the first of many steps on the road toward attaining excellent interpersonal skills. Developing these tools allow our relationships to prosper. Just as relationship skills and emotional intelligence ought to be core educational requirements, communication mastery should be the bedrock of any life that aspires to happiness, success, and fulfillment. It’s vital that we learn the necessary nuances and skills of communication so that our words may actually be heard.

 

Learn about Mel’s live, interactive online workshop — Mastering your Communication Skills: Breaking Through to the Other Side.

 

mel photo 3Mel Schwartz, LCSW MPhil is a psychotherapist, couples counselor, and author practicing in Westport, CT, Manhattan and globally by Skype. He earned his graduate degree from Columbia University. Mel’s approaches assist people in working through limitations, activating defining moments, and embracing life’s uncertainties. His methods strengthen communication, create resilient relationships, build authentic self-esteem, and enable us to overcome anxiety and depression. Mel has written The Art of Intimacy, The Pleasure of Passion and the forthcoming The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live, and Love(Sounds True, Fall 2017). He’s authored 100+ articles – read by over 1 million readers – for Psychology Today and his blog, Illuminating the Possibilities. Mel works with clients globally via skype. He can be reached at Mel@melschwartz.com 
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Are We Really Speaking about the Same Thing?

shared meaning 2How often have you felt frustrated in conversations as if you were each talking about a different thing? That’s because you were…

To experience truly effective communication, which rarely occurs, we need to make sure we’re actually talking about the same thing. If you assume that the words or phrases you’re using mean the same thing to both of  you, you’re making a mistake – I can assure you. Establishing a shared meaning is essential to have a coherent conversation.

Coherent communication doesn’t require agreement, but simply a shared meaning. We need to know that we are, in fact, talking about the same thing. How often do we pause and thoughtfully ask the other person what he means by the word or words he is using? As I was walking by a restaurant near my home one day and saw a parking attendant with whom I was acquainted, I asked, “How are you?” He smiled and said, “I can’t complain.”

As I continued my walk, a thought occurred to me: he might have meant either that he had nothing to complain about or that he literally wasn’t giving himself permission to complain. On my return home, I ran into him again and genuinely inquired which meaning I should construe. It took quite some time for him to admit that he believed that no one would care to listen to his complaints, so he wouldn’t bother. “I can’t complain” was now clear to me. I explained to him that when I ask, I truly do care and perhaps he might make an exception to his rule. Typically, I wouldn’t have inquired and never would have come to know this side of him.

To pause and ask people what they meant by the words they’ve just spoken is remarkably respectful. Respect comes from the Latin respecere, which means “to look again.” That is precisely what shared meaning demands – looking again at what the other intends in his or her articulation. We need to check in and confirm that we are on the same page. Read more

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Being Heard: Breaking Through the Impasse

troubleIn my last post, Silence: A Relationship Killer, we explored the ruinous consequences that intentional silence has on relationships. Silence is antithetical to healthy communicating. Very often people may resort to silence because they anticipate that what they need to say will fall on deaf ears or, worse still, invite an angry reaction. Anticipating that roadblock, we may choose silence. There is a better way, however. Let’s look at how we can navigate these sensitive communications successfully.

When we initiate a challenging discussion, it’s more than likely that the other party may not truly be listening. Their negative reaction may be triggered by specific words or topics, our tone, or body language, but it is most likely anchored in the memory of past impasses and unresolved conflicts. More often than not, the other person appears to be defending their territory and preparing their rebuttal while we’re still trying to articulate our thoughts, and vice-versa of course. Your sentence may not be complete before the other person’s reaction has begun. The futility of not being heard becomes a primary reason why people may default to silence. Read more

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Silence: A Relationship Killer

How-to-End-your-RelationshipOver the many years that I’ve been practicing therapy, I’ve found that couples that are struggling in their relationships often succumb to the default mode of silence. Sometimes, it’s one person who defers to the unspoken, and at times it’s actually both. In either circumstance, such silence – not a healthy pause or meditative break – speaks to the absence of verbal and emotional intimacy. Unless we’re communicating on levels of extra sensory perception or body language, words are the only tools available to us to communicate let alone resolve our issues. There’s little sense to being in a relationship and resorting to silence. Not only does it sabotage the lifeline of a healthy coupling, it chokes your expressive needs.

When you can express what you’re feeling – in the moment that you’re experiencing it – there’s much less likelihood that you’ll act out on that feeling. Problematic feelings that go unexpressed tend to percolate and boil over – they take on energy of their own, and the ensuing conflict hours or days later may have little correlation to the original emotional insult. When this occurs there’s little chance of being validated, as there may be little correspondence between your hurt feelings and the disruption of the moment.

Telling someone that you feel angry, and explaining why you do, will ordinarily sever the reactive state of being angry or acting angrily. Furthermore, the non-verbalization and suppression of your feelings will – over time – result in substantial resentment, with the accompanying behavior that we might expect. If you don’t share your problematic feelings, there is a great probability that you’ll act out on them, in any number of unrelated ways. Having done so, you now become the problem in the other’s eyes. We’ve now entered into a negative spiral of silence and struggle

Read more

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Communication Is the Heartbeat of Relationship

If communication is indeed the heartbeat of relationship, it’s little wonder that most relations are on coronary care. Once again we are confronted with another absurd reality. Our culture deprives us of the most fundamental education that we require to succeed in our relationships. Learning the subtleties and nuances of meaningful and effective communication are the cornerstones of successfully relating.

In effective communication, which incidentally is a very rare event, we need to first establish a shared meaning around the words, constructs and ideas that we are discussing and then further that meaning in a coherent flow of dialogue. Such a skill set enables relationships to thrive, businesses and organizations to be more productive and nations to create and sustain peace. What could possibly be more essential?

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Getting Past the Right or Wrong Impasse

In the previous post we looked at how dominant the motif of seeking to be right is in our culture. It is one of the most singular influences on our behavior and our relations. Now we’ll turn our attention to understanding just how this prevailing compulsion to be correct came into being.

The way that we see reality is very influenced by what is known as Aristotelian thinking. Aristotle’s philosophy held that things were or were not, is or is not. This duality very much filters how we picture reality operating. This is known as either/or thinking. It structures our beliefs into a very simple posture. We therefore know of something only by including its opposite.

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