Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Conscious Speaking

As social beings we have the need to express and connect with others. Talking fulfills many needs such as imparting information, sharing thoughts and feelings, conveying personal meaning, and revealing important aspects of ourselves, as a way to receive reflection. Most importantly we talk to so as to feel an emotional connection with those around us.

How often do we stop to get a real sense of why we are talking (the underlying need) or how we are speaking to someone? So often in our conversations we end up not feeling the connection we’ve hoped for or having more of a one-side dialogue that lacks mutuality. We’re left feeling misunderstood, unappreciated or sometimes ever worse, judged/attacked for what we’ve said.

We might also be feeling hurt, disappointed or deflated but don’t fully register these feelings and walk away feeling unhappy and drained instead of nurtured and revitalized. What we’re truly seeking is to feel ‘gotten’ at some deep level and to feel that what we say matters. Unfortunately, many of our conversations are surface-oriented and superficial. By having more conscious dialogues we are able to share more of ourselves, our authentic selves, which can be both a rejuvenating and nurturing experience. We have given something real of ourselves and have received a clear sense of ourselves in return.

For our communication to be authentic it must be a mutual exchange so that both parties can benefit. There’s a structure to this kind of conversation that can ensure this mutuality consisting of three very powerful components. The first has the listener reflect back or mirror what we’re saying; it’s important to know that we’ve been heard and even more, that it’s registered. For the listener to convey this, they would say back as much as they can recall or the jist of what they heard, with no personal reaction or commentary/judgment, just as a mirror simply reflects. “What I hear you saying is… or, it sounds like what you’re saying is,,,,is that correct?”

After the speaker is done the listener would then try to validate what was heard. “It makes sense to me that you would see it that way…,” whether or not it totally makes logical sense to the listener. Finally the listener would convey a sense of empathy, an emotional understanding of what the speaker was experiencing, “I imagine that you might be feeling….e.g. disappointed, sad, frustrated, relieved, etc.” This completes the first half of the dialogue. Now it’s time for the listener (who has just mirrored, validated, emphasized) to share his/her reactions to what was said, with the other person performing the three steps in return. This would complete one full round of the dialogue.

This manner of speaking is quite powerful and takes only a little practice. And even though in the beginning it might feel a bit awkward or formal, the result is really what we all want to feel in conversing with another, and especially our partners. We truly want to feel heard and that someone’s really listened to what we’re saying. We also want to know that the person can really understand the way we perceive reality by validating our perceptions/logic in some way. Most importantly we want to feel on an emotional level that someone else really knows how it feels to be in our shoes and can share our feelings in whatever situation we’re expressing and experiencing.

This emotional connection can also provide the safety in which to talk about difficult issues, ones that are often very charged and create great emotional reactivity. These intense dramas happen because we’re not listening completely, not really trying to understand another’s point of view and are not able to empathize. When we practice this kind of authentic communication, which emphasizes staying connected over proving a point, the conversation can deepen into more of a felt sense of what each other truly needs and new solutions often arise. Sometimes several rounds are needed, with each one bringing up different aspects or important nuances that were hard to express. Usually, the deeper one goes the closer one gets to the heart of the matter. What in fact happens is that this connection now feels so much safer, allowing one to risk the vulnerability to truly speak from the heart…its desires and needs, its fears and its love.

The first step is to try to be conscious of how you’re speaking. Know your intent and what you want to communicate. Be aware of the immediate effect you’re having on who you’re talking to and make whatever change to ensure your impact equals your intent. Try to remember to speak from your heart, no matter how your head tries to convince you otherwise. Only then will your conversations convey a greater depth of who you are and foster the kind of emotional connection that’s essential to healthy relationships.

Michael Mongno MFT, Ph.D, LP is a licensed psychoanalyst, relationship counselor and holistic practitioner in Manhattan. He is the founder of Present Centered Therapies which synthesizes Gestalt and Cognitive Behavioral therapies, Eastern spirituality, as well as Imago and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. He brings a wealth of successful experience with a wide range of couples issues as well as down-to-earth wisdom and modern sensibility to what it takes to create healthy, loving, and empowered relationships.

Please visit or call (212) 799-0001 for more information.

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