The Power of Two: Use The Four S’

Welcome back to my review of The Power of Two by Susan Heitler. In our last post we covered the first basic of dialogue, braid your dialogue. We discussed a cooperative and collaborative way to communicate that focuses on interlacing the thoughts and perspectives of the individuals to create a new mutual understanding. Today we will be diving into the second basic of dialogue which is, use the four S’.

-Courtney, Graduate Intern

            Humans are sociable and can fill their own emotional needs through communicating with others. That being said, if we are not interacting in a healthy and effective way with others it can leave us feeling emotionally drained, unheard, and misunderstood. Heitler suggests that there are four important characteristics to having effective dialogue: symmetry, short segments, specifics, and summary. The first characteristic, symmetry, accounts for our need to be able to engage in a conversation rather than being talked at or only talking at someone without reciprocation. By sustaining symmetry within a conversation both or all people are heard and have an opportunity to speak. Heitler brings forth the observation that the way we have learned to interact within our families and upbringing can have an impact on the way that we engage in conversations in our present and future. For example, if as a child someone recognized that within their home the person with the loudest volume of speech was the most heard then they may be loud and more aggressive in their conversations or alternatively they may assume the role of a listener because they do not feel confident in speaking up or feel that their listening skills are what they contribute to a conversation. When this occurs many negative feelings can be stirred up and the needs of the couple together are missed. Being honest with your partner about the role you take in a conversation and the way you feel like that may be helpful or unhelpful in having effective dialogue with one another can help realign the symmetry of your dialogue.

            A way that you can kind of measure whether there is symmetry in a conversation is based on the amount of time one individual in the conversation spends talking. This is not to say that you should put a timer on someone and make sure that each person speaks for the same amount of time, rather notice if one person is going on an exhaustive monologue and the other person hasn’t spoken in several minutes. To ensure that you have an actual conversation as opposed to a venting session, you want to give a short segment discussing a point that you are trying to get across and then allow for a pause for your partner to respond and give their input. This is the give and take of a conversation where not only is the dialogue flowing but it also is effective in being an opportunity to express thoughts, feelings, and concerns within a safe and supportive environment.

            Now how do we take a long monologue and break it down to a more concise short segment? Share the specifics! Heitler says that details are specific and at the same time less can be more!  Storytelling and trying to make a point can sometimes clash in that your point gets lost in your story. If you want to communicate to your partner the details of your day while also getting some feedback or a thought about something that came up in your day then you want to be specific in the details you share and the points you get across in a short enough segment that allows time for your partner to respond but gives them enough information to respond to. When discussing a problem or concern that you and/or your partner may have, summarizing can be beneficial in effectively discussing these matters and drawing potential solutions and courses of action to move forward on. By using summaries in conjunction with symmetry, short segments and specifics you can condense the main points and concerns that have been identified by both partners to set a clear mutual understanding of where each person sits relative to the concern at hand. Summaries allow too for one or both partners to reinstate a point or concern that may have been missed in the conversation as well.

            In using the four s’s of dialogue you and your partner can be more effective in your dialogue and walk away feeling heard, confident that your points of concern or interest have been addressed, and that you have, if necessary, a course of action to move forward in resolving conflict.

If you or a loved one live in the Chicagoland area and are seeking couples counseling or looking to improve overall communication skills within interpersonal relationships we encourage you to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates today to set up an appointment to speak with someone from our team! Contact us at 708-633-8000 or online at

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