Give Your Dialogue A Boost

By Marsha and Mike Green
January 2021

There is a Yoga App (called Down Dog) where you can choose what sort of yoga practice you want each day. The app allows you to “boost” the basic practice by choosing a particular area to focus on: do we want to focus on stretching our hamstrings, building our core strength, or work on our hip flexibility, for example. The resulting yoga practice covers the whole body, but spends some extra time and poses on the “boost” area.

We find this idea of taking a basic practice and enriching it by focusing on one particular aspect useful in dialogue as well. The goal of dialogue is to increase our understanding of each other, but to do that we use a variety of skills or tools. In a recent workshop we invited couples to make an effort to “boost” ONE of these six skills — to remind themselves during a dialogue to pay attention and exercise the skill, both as a listener and a speaker. It doesn’t mean not using the other tools, but sometimes it helps to have a focus.

    SPEAKER: The key to unlocking the depths is “because”. Naming emotions can be cathartic — AND the more we can understand the ‘why’ of these emotions, the deeper we can get into the motivations and impact of these emotions, and the more likely we are to move from just words to transformation. Bringing the BECAUSE into the light of day means it will have less hold over you and release you to listen more faithfully to how Spirit is calling you forward. LISTENER: If you don’t hear the “because”, lean in! Ask “why do you feel that way” or “I don’t think I heard the because.” Asking “is there more” is another way of asking “what is the deeper why?”

    SPEAKER: chunk what you have to share so that your partner can listen you into deeper sharing. Sometimes stream of consciousness sharing is a form of hiding. Not enough space, too many words. It can often be helpful to say “Can you reflect what I have said so far?” to indicate that you have more, but need to hear a reflection partway through.
    LISTENER: avoid parroting back all that you heard. Much of what is said is important for understanding the context but not important for understanding your partner. So ask yourself
    “what is the most important thing my partner is reaching for and wanting to share with me? BOTH: use a signal, e.g. a hand squeeze to indicate that you want to reflect. In essence, interrupt, or that you want to have a reflection given.

    SPEAKER: Name an emotion, rather than a thought. Our society often sidesteps emotions by saying “I feel like …” or “I feel as though …” followed by a thought or description. For example, saying “I feel angry when people ignore me” will get you further than “I feel like screaming when people ignore me” or “I feel as though people are ignoring me.” LISTENER: ask “what is the emotion?” Gently challenge the “likes” and “as thoughs”.

    Couples often have difficulty staying within the discipline of the roles because they assume they already know what their partner feels or thinks. This short-circuits the opportunity to discover something new about your partner. SPEAKER: don’t give up the talking stick too soon! If the listener doesn’t seem to quite get what you are saying, try again. By offering more explanation, you are allowing your partner further into your soul. Sometimes it is helpful to say “what I really want you to know is…”. LISTENER: don’t add your opinions to your reflection. Focus on reflecting what you heard, remembering that reflecting what your partner says doesn’t mean you agree or disagree with it.

  4. AVOID HIDDEN CONTEST OF WHO IS RIGHT. An exploratory dialogue is about understanding — not about who is correct. SPEAKER: claim that your emotions and understanding are your own. Don’t assume they are true for your partner.. We often use the tool “The Story I Tell Myself Is…” For example, “The story I tell myself is that when you are reading a book I can’t disturb you.” LISTENER: If your partner says something that doesn’t seem true to you, refrain from correcting them. Simply reflect. When it is your turn to speak, you can say, “I heard you think you can’t disturb me when I’m reading. I have a different perspective.”

  5. EXPLORE FURTHER: SPEAKER. Once you have named your emotions and your “because” and your partner has reflected them, see if you can articulate your bedrock values, your needs, your desires, associated with the situation. LISTENER: Ask open ended questions: “what values are you honoring here? What are you longing for?”

Have you already participated in a Couple Enrichment event? If so, you are eligible to sign up for an online "Drop-in Dialogue" to give your dialogue a boost!

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