The Power of Two: Use Climate Controls

Welcome back to my review of The Power of Two by Susan Heitler. In our last post we covered the second basic of dialogue which is, use the four S’s 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 third basic of dialogue which is, use climate controls.

-Courtney, Graduate Intern

            Picture this, you’re driving home from work later in the evening and suddenly it starts to downpour. Now it is dark and you can barely see five feet ahead of you but you know that you need to get home. You have choices, you can continue driving at the same speed and try to make it home on time the way you wanted to, you can slow down and take your time navigating the storm to get home, or you can pull off to the side of the road and wait out the storm. I am not here to tell you how to drive, but I am here to talk to you about how in this case, and many others, you can still get to your final destination in a safe way given the conditions.

            Heitler describes how the climate of a conversation between people can often change and be noticed by those involved. The first way to recognize a change in conversational climate is in monitoring for heat and speed. Whether we are trying to make a case or point for something, express emotions, or solve a problem we are already responding to our emotions that are driving us to discuss this matter. Then comes the emotions we experience as our partner or whomever we are speaking to responds to us with their own emotions. We can learn about how our partner is feeling about the conversation based on the rate and volume of the conversation. If they start speaking faster and louder that is a good implication that a fight is about to start or the opposite if they speak very slow and quiet to the point of not talking they may be shutting down and becoming more closed off to the conversation. As we pay attention to these things we can address them in the moment by directly communicating the observation of change and inquire about the reasoning behind it. We can also utilize this as a time to take a step back ourselves before continuing forward and potentially escalating the situation more. This is an opportunity to tap into those active listening skills more and summarize what you have heard and discussing what you know to be true or right about what has been said in order to reestablish cooperation. This pause will also allow your thoughts and feelings to catch up to one another so you can proceed more mindfully.

Another way to monitor climate control is by using word patrol according to Heitler. Listening to what it is we are saying and communicating such as using ‘we’ and ‘should’ can give us a clue into how we are setting up the tone of the conversation as we move forward. Heitler suggests the following alternatives as we use word patrol:

Instead of __ use à ____

  • But à And
  • We à I want…/ What are your preferences?
  • You think that  à  What you think? / How do you feel about?
  • Should à Could
  • You make me feel à I feel
  • I feel that you à I feel ___ when you ___
  • Don’t you think that? à Do you think that?
  • Always/Never à Sometimes/Generally/ Often
  • I don’t want à I’d like

            Now if you and your partner are aware that one or both of you are quick to escalate in a conversation or want to be proactive in the case that you do, then  Heitler recommends an exit and reentry routine. Now, if you are in the moment and things re heated it would not be a useful time to try and devise a strategy to stop the conversation and reengage later so you’ll want to do this when things are calm and going well. When creating this routine you want to think about the how, where, what, how, when, and what if. The first three steps are about disengaging from the conversation and the way you plan to soothe yourself in that time apart. The last three steps are about how you and your partner will reengage with one another and the conversation, taking into consideration that the conversation could escalate again so planning ahead for that as well.

            Last but not least, make sure your basic needs are met! When we are hungry, tired, or stretched too thin with responsibilities we can respond and behave in a way that is more irrational or untrue to how we would typically respond to a person or given situation. This requires us to have the self-awareness to recognize when our basic needs aren’t being met and are now having an impact on our mood. In addition, as a partner you may grow to recognize these changes in your partner and be able to make connections between the way they are responding and their needs. This in itself can be a great conversation to have ahead of time to be able to discuss how as an individual we intend to meet our basic needs, as well as from a partner standpoint, how it is that they can help and support in that process.

            A great part of climate control is that we get to decide what the climate of our relationships will be. We can choose to be proactive or reactive. Heitler provides the insight above to provide us a way to start gathering information about what our climate is now and subsequent steps to make changes as we go forward.

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 book and from a clinician actively learning and utilizing the tools.

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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One thought on “The Power of Two: Use Climate Controls

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  1. I love and use the alternative words a lot. It’s just that slight change, and it works. I used it with staff when doing supervision and change something like “I love what you’ve done there but next time………” to

    “I love what you’ve done there, and next time……..”

    If you’ve just given positive feedback and use the word “but”, you’ve now washed away the positive message.


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