Let’s Talk About It
I encounter many people who have never been taught the art of expressing themselves; to say what they really mean, and mean what they say. Often, when working with couples or families there is a great deal that is being left un-said. Everyone is left to their own perceptions and judgments and, for whatever reason, nobody is checking to see if their perceptions or what they hearing are correct of not. It is what I call a great deal of static, or staying on the surface of the conversation instead of moving to the deeper places of what they are really feeling and trying to get across to one another.
First things first, we need to establish a safe place to be able to work things out. People need to feel that they are safe to express thoughts and feelings without fearing they might suddenly be shut down if they say something that doesn’t sit right with others. With someone you are especially close to, perhaps a spouse or family member, a good rule of thumb is to have a particular cue word or phrase between you that, when spoken, means that you have something serious to communicate and it will most likely be difficult to say. This always prepares the listener to be ready to really hear where the other person is coming from, and that they may be feeling fear, anxiety, or judgment in regards to what they are about to share. Having a cue word can set a tone of compassion between two people before a difficult word is ever even spoken.
Another simple, yet profound, tool is to restate what you have just heard the other say following it up with, “Did I hear you right?” If you heard wrong it gives the person bringing the message the opportunity to correct the other’s misperception or misunderstanding.
Also watch for body language. So much is communicated by how we respond with our bodies. If you say something with good intention and the body language of the person you are with comes of as drawing back, or seemingly upset, then you have an opportunity to ask them, “What did you just hear me say?” This is a sure way to clear up any misunderstandings because if they heard you wrong you can graciously correct them in the immediate and sidestep any potential for the other person possibly silently holding onto their misperceptions and eventually moving to a place of resentment.
At the end of the day it is all about communication. We humans are not mind readers. Walking it out by talking it out is the best way to prevent miscommunications or misunderstandings from getting blown out of proportion.
Thaddeus Heffner is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Brentwood, Tennessee and is a member in good standing with the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the American Association of Christian Counselors. You can visit Thaddeus Heffner LMFT at thaddeusheffner.com.