Nov 19 2007

Listening and speaking with empathy…reducing the cycle of conflict

If you can master listening and speaking with empathy, you are a long way towards building a healthy relationship. John Gottman talks about “listening and speaking nondefensively…”

We all have been in relationships where arguments spiral way out of control. You say one thing and your partner says another…soon, you are getting pretty mad and the argument you were having escalates to full out “verbal combat!”

Defensive speaking and listening sounds like this:

” You are always at fault…you never listen, and don’t care about me at all.”

“What do you mean!? I always have to listen to you…you never give me a chance to get a word in when we talk. You blame me for everything! If you think you act like you care about me, you don’t know anything!”

Here is the same interaction in nondefensive language:

Speaker
“You know, I am feeling kind of sad and lonely. I don’t think you are doing this deliberately, but I would really like to feel more connected to you right now. I think we may be too busy with other things and not giving ourselves enough time to be together. What do you think?”

Listener
“If I hear you correctly, you are saying that you’ve been feeling sad and lonely and are wondering if we have too much going on right now…I think you are right about being too busy…I am feeling pretty overwhelmed with work. I know that when I get home, I don’t have a lot of energy to talk and have a hard time expressing how exhausted I feel…”

I know the example above sounds corny…we probably never talk to each other this way in ordinary life…but maybe we should…

Here are some other nondefensive listening/speaking examples:

“So what you are saying is…”

“I can tell you are upset about this, take your time and help me understand…”

“We’re both getting pretty angry right now…let’s calm down and try to start over…”

“I can’t take the intensity of this right now. I need a break, but will be able to come back to this in about 15 minutes…”

“I know I am upset right now and sound blaming…please hang in there with me…I just need to say these things, so I can get them out of my head…”

“If you just stay with me and maybe give me a hug, I think I can calm down…”

Calming down, listening and speaking with empathy help you go a long distance towards reducing the conflict and setting the stage for experiencing more intimacy and joy in your relationship. Try it, you’ll like it!

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