In the last series of blogs, “The Three Things That Drive You “APE” in Your Relationships,” I discussed how we can regress to our ancestral roots due to the impact of our amygdala, our past and our ego. Good communication can help tame the APE, and keep it from sabotaging your relationships. In this set of three blogs, I’ll introduce the concept of “contemplative communication,” and provide specific strategies when one is sender (speaker) and when one is the receiver (listener).
Here’s five strategies to effectively communicate your message when you are the sender, as represented by the acronym I-SAID:
I – Intentional
Be clear about your intention for your communication. Author Terry Real uses the acronym WAIT to help couples be intentional. It stands for “Why am I talking?” and if you can’t answer it in a way that will be productive for the relationship, you probably shouldn’t be talking. Set your intention to express yourself with the goal of being understood. This implies that you can’t just let it all out because it feels good. Healing comes from being genuinely received, so speak in a manner that helps the other person to listen to you.
S – Self-Soothing
Containing reactivity is vital in healthy communication. This means you have to learn how to calm the body. If you feel charged, take the time to engage in deep breathing, prayer, exercise, journaling, or some other practice that can help you become grounded before approaching the other person. If you’re already in a conversation that has escalated or become stuck, taking a time-out is often the best step to take – so long as you return to the issue and not bury it under the rug. When you take a time-out, know that it will take your body a minimum of 20 minutes to come back down from amygdala hijack, so don’t rush it.
A – Appointment
Researcher John Gottman talks about the importance of a soft start-up in healthy conversations. Come in hard and you invite defensiveness. In Imago we talk about making an appointment. “I’d like to talk to you, is now a good time?” This cues your partner that you want to talk, and allows him/her to prepare to listen. If now is not a good time, then set a specific time to talk. Once again, we’re doing this to prevent amygdala hijack and promote a healthy connection.
I – I Statements
Talk about your own experience. As you reflect and share, your focus should go inward. This allows the other person to really see and understand you. “I feel that you…” is not an I statement; it often leads to shame, blame or criticism which is toxic to healthy communication. Describe an incident objectively, then share your experience. “You are so rude and thoughtless strolling in the door at all hours of the night” oozes venom. “When you came home at 11:00 without having called or texted, I felt disrespected and angry” is clear, direct and respectful.
D – Deepen
Express the underlying emotions and background issues that are triggered. Share the soft feelings (e.g., sadness, disappointment, fear) under the hard feeling (e.g., anger, contempt, cold). Here you’re invited to risk vulnerability as appropriate with healthy boundaries. The stronger the relationship, the deeper you are invited to go. Develop a mantra of “safe inside, risk outside” to keep yourself grounded as you share.
Remember, it’s what I-SAID that counts!
Previous: What is “Contemplative Communication?”
Next up: Strategies for the Receiver (Listener).