When was the last really great conversation you had? When was the last terrible talk you had?
The chances are pretty good that both happened with the same person, since most of us find we regularly communicate well with only a small handful of people on matters that are close to our hearts. And it is the same person or people that tend to rile us up when we are not feeling that "click" that comes from good connection. When I work with couples seeking to resolve their divorce dispute through collaborative practice, I survey each partner in order to understand their perception of their own and their partners communication style. The goal of collaborative coach facilitation is NOT to reunite the couple and repair the rift that has led them to select divorce (although truth be told some couples have decided against divorce after learning skills from their collaborative coach); rather the goal and the purpose of the information I collect is to better understand the areas of strength and challenge that might impact the couple's ability to directly confront the myriad decisions that lay before them as they disentangle the life they built together. From the simple to the complex, a couple's communication pattern can forecast areas that will prove easy and challenging as they make the decision to dissolve their union.
There are 11 areas that I examine with each partner prior to the start of the collaborative process. Each area represents a communication method that in and of itself predicts very little about potential "hot spots". What can be very revealing however is the pattern of these 11 areas and the ways in which both partners report themselves and their partner's patterns. Knowing that one partner has a habit of leveling while another partner tends to withdraw helps me to shape 5-way meetings so that the information that needs to be heard can be heard in a way- and at a pace- that is most helpful for shared decision making.
Take a look at the list below. What approach do you recognize as your primary approach; which one is your "pet peeve" when selected by your partner? I evaluate my clients using a standardized measure; but you can learn a lot about your particular approach by reviewing and reflecting on these for yourself. And, if you happen to be in the middle of a conflict with someone with whom a long-term connection is necessary, consider what changes you might make to help decrease the negative conflict and open up productive dialogue. We can't control others, but there is a lot we can do to select a different pattern for ourselves.
Leveling:Being Open, honest, and clear about your thoughts and feelings
Emotional Expressiveness: Being comfortable with expressing and expressions of emotions and affection.
Validation: Acknowledging and giving full credit and value to another's experience and perceptions.
Love and Affection: Expressing and being comfortable with expressions of love and affection.
Editing: Leaving out thoughts, feelings, or information in order to shield your partner, or yourself from your partner's reaction.
Negative Escalation: Adding negative statement upon negative statement and increasing the degree of conflict
Negativity: Finding problems and blame with every statement or suggestion offered by partner.
Feedback: Asking questions about your partner's position in order to better understand their statement.
Stop Actions: Stopping conversations when conflict has gotten heated and agreeing to return to the topic once calmer.
Focusing: Maintaining the dialogue on the single topic that is being addressed and preventing the conflict from spreading to other tangential topics.
Withdrawl: Refusing to engage on a topic and ceasing dialogue and interaction.
(adapted from Allerano & Markman, 2006)
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014