Welcome back to my review of The Power of Two by Susan Heitler. In our last post we began discussing the concepts found in Heitler’s book. We focused specifically on collaborative dialogue in order to set the stage for the upcoming basic skills. I also gave a brief overview of three different styles of communication: cooperative, combative, and cut off. Today we will be diving into the first basic of collaborative dialogue, Say it!
-Courtney, Graduate Intern
In order to have a conversation with someone it requires someone to initiate the conversation. Our reasoning’s for bringing up a specific conversation or topic can be a million different things. Common reasons are to respond to our emotions, needs, wants, and concerns. That being said, we are aware of our intention or motive when we start a conversation and for that reason Heitler encourages individuals to say exactly what it is that they have on their mind. Of course, this is within reason, no one wants anyone to just start spewing their every thought without a filter (or maybe some do). We can find our limits through appropriate communication skills and boundaries. When we do not have these tools many of us will be reluctant to openly communicate, thus causing pressure to build up and eventually explode. This leads us to Heitler’s first concept within this basic.
Voicelessness: a result of a fear of receiving a defensive reaction or feelings of being unsafe to communicate due to a lack of understanding and/or empathy.
When we become voiceless nothing is getting solved within a relationship. Instead, partners encourage voicelessness in one another leading to an increase in irritation, resentment, depression, and emotional distance. Rather than avoiding one another or stepping on eggshells each day, Heitler wants us to speak up and be curious. Whether you have been married for forty years or dating for six months, there is always something new to learn about your partner. I am sure many would disagree because I have heard people after five years tell me there is nothing they do not know about their partners. That is very doubtful. Chances are that in your voicelessness you are making an assumption based on a previous knowledge base of common reactions, values, and beliefs that you have learned about your partner. While you may have a good assumption, that doesn’t mean it will always be the right one. So go ahead and address it instead. Until then look for examples of voicelessness including:
Hinting: indirect communication that is a high-risk and low-gain strategy to communicating
Hoping/wishing: staying silent and thinking about what your needs/concerns are and that your partner is aware of them as well.
We are all guilty of hoping and hinting at things whether it is to our partner, friends, family, or boss. Sometimes taking a direct approach to communication about a certain issue is too intimidating, so individuals take on a more passive or aggressive approach. They do so in order to either avoid confrontation or ensure they are heard but in an inappropriate way. When we hint to someone what we want, we can feel like we have done enough to communicate and then wait for a change. Unfortunately, we will be waiting around for a long time and our frustration will grow. Similar situation with hoping, we think after so many years with our partner that they can read our minds. That is literally impossible. So until that superpower starts popping up in people we will need to start communicating more directly.
Heitler demonstrates the importance of communicating directly as she references a plane crash from 1982 where 69 people were killed out of 74 due to indirect communication. You may think that is a dramatic example but it definitely catches your attention and makes you think. If the copilot would have directly communicated his concerns about the temperatures versus just simply making a statement about the temperature 69 people could be alive right now. We take for granted how important a given conversation and moment can be until it is gone or something goes wrong. This leads to our next concept or example of voicelessness:
Guessing: supposing (something) without sufficient information to be sure of being correct. In this case thought and feelings.
Have you ever been around your partner when you are having a great day and they are not? You are having such a good day that you want to be productive and active yet your partner appears to be down and quiet today. You, wanting to be productive and not have your bad mood squashed, guesses that your partner doesn’t want to tag along on your outings so you go out on your own. When you come back your partner comments how they wish you would have invited them out because they really needed something like that today. You feel like a jerk and may be upset with yourself because you acted based on a guess. To make matters worse, in the long run the decision hurt both you and your partner. Again, people can’t read minds so we need to feel comfortable to ask our partners for what we or they want or need.
The importance of asking things of others is that in that moment we take ownership and responsibility of our needs. Furthermore, when asking a question we initiate a flow of conversation and can directly address our concerns and get closer to a solution. Asking takes away the hinting, hoping, wishing, assuming, and guessing games that we are drawn to play. We can ask and be curious about the things we are unsure of or need more information about. This can lead us to have more well-rounded thoughts, feelings, and responses. Once we have the answers to these questions we can then learn to express statements of concerns, thoughts, and beliefs.
When we want to communicate with our partner our needs it is important to maintain ownership of our thoughts and feelings rather than placing them or projecting them onto our partner. We can do this by using I statements. These statements can come in many forms. The ones that Heitler focuses on include, “I think..”, “I want..”, and “I would like..”. Removing the ‘you’ from before each of these statements or in place of ‘I’, removes blame, accusations, and demands. Instead we want to show our partners that we are only communicating what we know to be true for us in the current moment. I statements allow us to show enthusiasm, demonstrate cooperativeness, and invite our partner to do things with/for us. In this way, our concerns become requests which down the road lead to solutions and more positive attitudes.
Want to learn more about I statements and how to use them? Check back for the next blog in this series which will cover Heitler’s basic number two, Verbalize Feelings.
Follow along as we continue to dive into The Power of Two and its use with married couples, dating relationships, and single people. Bear in mind all information provided comes as a review of Heitler’s novel and from a clinician actively learning and utilizing the tools.