Structured Dialogue

Integrity in Communication

  1. Begin with centering and presence.
    1. Do an inner check.
      • What emotions are you feeling right now (anger, fear, resentment or happiness, joy or contentment)?
      • What are the sensations you are experiencing in this moment (tightness, pain, pounding/racing heart, discomfort or distress of any kind)?
    2. If there is any emotional or physical distress take all the time you need to relax the body and mind.  Too many of us get so committed to reaching the end of the conversation, and/or getting our point across, that we ignore this essential step.
    3. Focus your energy upon your love or caring for the other.
  2. Now ask the other if they are available to talk.
    1. Courtesy and respect for the other’s time and energy makes for a good start.
    2. If the other is not available at that time, ask them when the two of you can talk.
  3.  Share with them what you would like to discuss.
    1. Tell the other what you hope to achieve or get from your talk. Declare your intention.  Remember the overarching aim must be to understand and be understood.
    2. Cautions:
      • Avoid problem solving on the fly.  Things can go wrong very easily.
      • If you intend to tell them how angry they make you feel or how you know what they are thinking or feeling stop yourself. Go back to your centering exercises. Own your assumptions and interpretations.
      • Resist the urge to tell the other the answer to their problem or behavior.
      • Avoid attacking and blaming.
      • Avoid “Why” questions in personal conversations.  The Listener must immediately stop listening and figure out how to answer the question. Besides, there is no good answer for Why questions.  These questions usually arise from attack or blame.  The Listener often reacts to the question with a defensive response.
      • Avoid asking the Listener any questions.  Make statements.  Own your own experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations and behaviors).
  4. Once you have agreement to dialogue send the content of your message.
    1. Use short “I” messages. (eg. I feel angry about XYZ.)  Remember we all have short memory for long wordy conversations.  Many people want to send off an entire message of five to fifteen minutes in duration. Often the Sender expects the Listener to pick out what is most important, understand it and comply with a change in behavior.  This approach is not conversation.  It is venting.  And a set-up for communication failure.
    2. The Listener repeats back what they have heard.
      • Initially, the Listener should repeat back word for word what the Sender has said.
      • Common derailments happen when the Listener interprets what is said or thinks they have to paraphrase what is said to demonstrate they are listening.
      • The Listener must not ask questions during this phase of the dialogue.  99% of all the Listener’s questions will most likely be answered as the sender completes the message.
    3. Once the Listener has repeated what they heard, the Listener asks, “Did I get it?”  The Sender must listen to the feedback carefully to be sure they are understood.
    4. If the Sender says, “Yes” the Listener prompts the Sender by saying, “Is there more?”  If the Sender says “No” then they must follow up immediately with what did not get repeated.
    5. Sender and Listener continue the back and forth until the entire message has been sent and received. When there is no more content to the Sender’s message, the Sender says, “That’s about it” or “That’s all.”  Caution: When the Listener says, “Is there more?” the Sender should avoid saying “No.”  Negative words tend to discolor the atmosphere of the conversation and may be misinterpreted by the Listener as an attempt by the Sender to hide.
  5. Emotions (thoughts and sensations) :  once the Sender has sent all the content of their part of the dialogue the Sender tells the Listener what emotions they have been experiencing as they have been sending the message.
    1. The Sender continues by saying, “As I am saying these things I am feeling…”
    2. Here we come to the importance of differentiating between thoughts, emotions and sensations.
      • If the Sender continues the phrase with “I am feeling that…” the Sender is about to deliver a thinking statement.  (eg. I feel that you / are not hearing me / care about me / are angry with me / don’t love me.)
      • The Sender should always follow the word feel with an emotion word.  A few examples: “I feel sad / happy / angry / nervous / desperate / hopeful.”
      • Remember that our emotions are a natural consequence of our thoughts.  If the Sender thinks, “The other doesn’t care about me” some of the naturally following emotions can be sadness / anger / dismay / fear.
      • The danger of confusing thoughts with emotions.  When we tell ourselves something, it becomes our subjective reality.  If we tell ourselves, “I feel that the other doesn’t care about me.” we wonder into the realm of emotional reasoning. Emotional Reasoning is actually disordered thinking.  “It feels this way, therefore, it must be true!”
      • -Emotions arise from the sensations in the body.  It is also valuable to distinguish between emotion and sensation.  Returning to the communication from Sender to Listener: If the Sender begins with: “As I am saying this I am feeling sick”, the Sender has just told the Listener about the sensation in the Sender’s body.  The Sender can clarify for the Listener by immediately adding,  “I am feeling sick because I am feeling scared / fearful / anxious.”
      • Remember if the Sender wants the Listener to understand them, the Sender must be willing to search inward and understand their own experience in order to tell the Listener as much as possible.
      • -Sender and Listener continue the back and forth until the entire message about the emotions has been sent and received.
  6. Family of Origin (the family you grew up in)
    1. The Sender begins this third and last section of their part of intentional dialogue with the sentence.  “What I am thinking and feeling makes complete sense to me because…”
    2. Our family history growing up sets up the way we look at and interpret what happens in our present relationships.  We grow up in a family context and it influences our attitudes and expectations of others and of life in general.
    3. Here the Sender helps the Listener understand the Sender’s family context and how it influences the conversation.  The connection of the Senders thoughts and feelings about the subject of the conversation may be positive or negative.  By way of example: If a wife is grateful to her husband for taking an active role in fathering their children it may be so because her father was active in her growing up. Or her father may have been distant and unavailable and so she feels happy that her husband is not like her father when it comes to parenting.
    4. Sender and Listener continue the back and forth until the entire message about the emotions has been sent and received.
  7. Now having completed all three phases of sending the message: a) content, b) emotions & sensations, and c) Family of Origin sense making, the roles reverse and the Listener becomes the Sender.  It is at this point at which the original Listener may ask the original Sender any clarifying questions.  Once any questions are resolved the original Listener may then proceed as the second Sender.

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