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We have all experiences the frustration of being misunderstood, not being listened to, emotio­nal moods, expectations not being met, different beliefs, etc.  To have a great relationship, both of you must be able to fearlessly express your beliefs, concerns and preferences authentically.  Escalation, invalidation, withdrawal and negative patterns make it unsafe to express your real heart.

The Speaker-Listener technique has many advantages over an unstructured conversation when discussing difficult issues.  It is one very simple way to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” and thereby limiting the damaging patterns and fostering better communication.  Any conversation in which you want to increase clarity and safety can benefit from the speaker and listener technique.  How does it work?

Rules for you both:

The speaker has the floor: If you do not have the floor you are the listener.  The speaker keeps the floor while the listener paraphrases, keeping it clear who is in which role all the time.

Rules for the Speaker

  • Speak for yourself – do not mind-read, talk about your thoughts, feelings and concerns, not your perceptions or interpretations of the listener’s point of view or motives – unless specifically ask otherwise.
  • Keep what you say in manageable pieces (you don’t have to say all at once) to help the listener actively listens.
  • Stop and let the listener paraphrase.  After a sentence or two, stop and let the listener paraphrase what you have said – if the paraphrase is not quite accurate, you should restate what was not heard.  Your goal is to help the listener to hear and understand your point of view.

Rules for the Listener

  • Paraphrase what you hear – repeat back what you heard – using your own words – the key is that you show your partner that you are listening as you restate what you heard, without interpretations.
  • If you do not understand, ask the speaker to clarify or repeat – but you may not ask questions on any other aspect of the issue, unless you have the floor as the speaker.

Take responsibility for yourself.

Dependent people need others to get what they want; Independent people can get what they want through their own efforts.  Interdependent people combine their efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.  These are the people who can share themselves deeply, meaningfully with others and they have vast recourses and potential that they can utilise from others.

Take responsibility for your own behaviour, even when your partner does not seem to want to get along.  You can choose to be polite and to use good skills, even when your spouse won’t.  You are already doing a lot to build each other up, by choosing to do the program.  In fact, it is very important to encourage one another in your efforts to strengthen your relationship.

Identify irrational beliefs.

  • Making conclusions without supporting and relevant evidence, this includes “catastro­phizing” or thinking of the absolute worst scenario and outcomes for most situations.
  • Forming a conclusion based on an isolated detail of an event, ignoring other relevant information and in the process miss out on the significance of the total context.
  • Holding extreme beliefs based on a single incident and applying them inappropriately to similar events or settings.
  • Perceiving a case or situation in a greater or lesser light than it truly deserves.
  • Relating external events to yourself, even when there is no basis for making this connection.
  • Portraying your identity based on imperfections and mistakes made in the past and allowing them to define your identity.
  • Thinking in all-or-nothing terms or categorizing experiences in either-or-extreme – things are labelled in black and white terms.

                                (Source: Sternberg, RJ 1995. – In Search of the Human Mind)

Call Time Out.

When conflict begins to escalate, we will call a Time Out and either try talking again, using the speaker-listener technique, or agree to talk later at a specified time about the issue.  When the listener says: “It is not a good time” he or she takes responsibility for setting up a time to talk soon.

Make it safe to communicate.

When we are having trouble communicating, we will engage to ensure there are no misinterpre­tations, quick to listen and slow to speak and we will make it safe enough to communicate

No reckless words.

We will not use reckless words.  “You are always…….”  “Things will never change……….” “You are just like my mother/father………. etc.”

Problem discussion versus problem solution.

When discussing an important issue, we will separate problem discussion from problem solution.  Too often we rush to find a solution, only to find out that the solution fails because it was premature.  This results to a sense of hopelessness about the problem.

Weekly partner meetings.

We will have weekly couple’s meetings.  Use these meetings to raise concerns, have discussions about important issues, plan for events coming up, or just take stock of how your relationship is doing.

Getting to the bottom of real issues .

Sometimes partners get into fights about trivial events (for example, clothes lying around) that don’t seem to be attached to any issue.  Arguments about these kinds of things are signs that they are not getting at the real issues.  The real issues are deeper and more elusive.

Hidden issues often drive our most frustrating and destructive arguments and are often not the things being talked about openly.  Hidden issues can be, power, caring, recognition, commitment, integrity and acceptance.  Because these issues are the things closest to our hearts, they often have a deeper spiritual significance.

Verbalise unmet expectations.

Expectation – we bring into our relationships an array of hopes and dreams from a variety of sources.  Expectations are profoundly powerful, as they reflect what we long for and how we wish things to be.  Expectations play a crucial role in determining our level of satisfaction in relationships. Unmet expectations provide great potential for conflict. 

If it works, don’t fix it.

There are problem-free times (exceptions to the problem) when, for a variety of reasons, things go more smoothly.  Acknowledge these exceptions.  By emphasizing what works, problems no longer seem insurmountable and optimism become part of the picture.  Ask yourself the question: “What is different about the times we do get along?” or “What did you do in years past that worked for you?”

Describe goals in behavioural or action terms.

Some goals we strive for are freedom, togetherness, security, respect.  These goals need to be translated in observable, behavioural terms.  Example be respectful: Ask me about my day, I will compliment you on you caring for us.

  • Small changes lead to bigger changes
  • Change in the family system due to external events

Any change in the family system, losing a job, a geographical move, death of grandparents, etc. challenges even the best relationships.  Recognizing that relationship difficulties can arise due to external events and that there is no need to make “it personal”.

                                          (Parts taken from Weiner-Davis, M: Divorce Busting)

GOOD LUCK!!

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