“Why are you angry….why are you sad…” These are the questions that can, with ease, shut down an important conversation. Emotions, often, cannot be revealed to have a “rational” basis. Asking these kinds of questions makes the speaker…defensive. Fearful of speaking anymore. We must work to find a new way to relate. A little-known process called Imago Therapy provides a template.
The case: if we’re going to change how we operate in our businesses, one of the changes that will have to occur is in how we communicate with each other. Imago Therapy, a sophisticated form of couples therapy, provides some basic “rules” which can change social intercourse into something quite productive. Originally designed for intimate relationships, I think there’s a case for applying them to the workplace.
Where do we struggle in our communications? One place we struggle is in listening: our brains (120 bits per second CPU power) are moving faster than the person is speaking(about 60 bps required) so…we have to slow down our brains. Second, we have trouble hearing what’s being said, the hidden message behind the words. (That’s what we could spend a little brain CPU power on while listening; looking at body position, facial expressions.)
It’s no wonder most of us don’t feel like we’ve been heard, let alone understood. The resultant perception is that conversations remain superficial; there’s a negative incentive for sharing one’s true thoughts. We can change that with one sentence.
“It makes sense to me that…you’re angry.” No questions, no invalidation of the speaker’s feelings, no disincentive to speak further. Just the conveyance of an understanding, a sympathetic position. Something, perhaps, uniquely human. Yes, you can do it. Practice.
The phrase works on anything. After my wife has spilled her guts about her job (which she always loves, of course), I can say: “it makes sense to me that you’re frustrated…” She doesn’t have a problem I need to solve; she has a burden she needs to unload and I’m the guy to help; I’m her partner. Lucky me.
So, try it sometime: a simple, authentic statement. It could change more than you think.
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