A Review of The Power of Two

Welcome back to my review of The Power of Two by Susan Heitler. In our last post we briefly reviewed the overall goals and constructs of the book, trouble shot concerns, and shared helpful tips for success. Today we will be diving into the first part of Heitler’s book and doing an overview but not yet exploring our skills. This will set the foundation for the skills we will review in the next several posts. Enjoy!

-Courtney, Graduate Intern


Part one: The Basics of Collaborative Dialogue

Defining Collaborative Dialogue

Heitler identifies two types of communication, problematic dialogue and cooperative dialogue. One may think that the two are just the opposites of one another, but there is much more to it than that.

Problematic dialogue: Communication that is combative, competitive, and chaotic in nature. Verbal behaviors include: name calling, defensiveness, avoidance, dismissal, ignoring, and disengagement. (Combative, cut off)

Cooperative dialogue: Communication that is positive, friendly, respectful, and equal in nature. Verbal behaviors include: attentive listening, forward movement, problem solving, and decision making. (direct communication)

Problematic dialogue is more often heard in the home as there are many internal pressures and expectations but with minimal fear of rejection. This differs from our public behavior as we fear abandonment or rejection that coincides with external pressures. That is why we more commonly see cooperative dialogue being engaged in with friends, peers, and co-workers in an effort to maintain social appearance and interpersonal relationships. The appropriateness of dialogue based on a setting can have power in the draw we have to one style versus another. For example, maybe I typically would argue with my sibling and have little regard for their reaction except for when we are at the store and I don’t want attention brought to us over a fight. Later, when we go home I lash out and argue. This example demonstrates how a relationship and the way we interact within it can be impacted by the environment which Heitler hopes to bring into awareness for a couple. These styles of communicating can be fluid and easily altered based on a situation. To consistently engage in or style or other requires practice which we referred to in our first post introducing the book.

Strategy Collaborative Combative Cut off
Goal Shared understanding To prove who is right and who is wrong

To win by inflicting the most damage or getting the other to give up

To avoid conflict, as conflict means unpleasant fighting
Format Consensus building Debate

Hurtful comments

Change the topic away from sensitive areas of difference
Tone Positive



Adamant, attempting to persuade.

Can become irritable or angry

Underlying tension; may have false cheeriness to convey that everything is fine when it isn’t
Purpose of Listening To hear what is right and used in what each   speaker says To defend against incoming information Listening does not occur because neither party has expressed true concerns
Toxicity Tact minimizes saying anything that might hurt the other Toxic comments are seen as legitimate Criticism is avoided by steering clear of controversial topics
Attitude towards Differences Differences are treated respectfully, appreciated, and enjoyed Difference are divisive, leading to argument Differences produce disengagement, lest discussion of them evoke conflict


Do any of these sound like you? Are you not sure which style of dialogue you fit into right now? A quick google search will pop up with plenty of quizzes and articles about communication styles that may provide further insight in the interim. As you follow us we will provide some of those examples I referred to in our first post in order to shed more light on what exactly we mean when we say to use the skills. Stay tuned for our next post in which we will look at our first basic skill, Say it!

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