Sahar and Ronit have dedicated much time and effort to develop skills that offer greater understanding and empathy and use these skills in their work as life coaches, and in their relationships.
The rewards of up-leveling communication skills include deeper connection, intimacy, trust, ease in resolving conflict, and the gift of being seen and truly seeing another person. If you find the information in this article valuable and you want to dive into learning these tools, consider working with either of us privately or with your spouse/partner.
Our first tip is the foundation for everything else is…
When you have something to talk about that is charged, edgy, scary for you or scary for the other, or is a topic with a history of disagreements (you get the picture), slowing down is the most important thing you can do. Staying grounded in your body, and breathing deeply are not only helpful, but your grounded sense of self and breathing are indicators of how present you are and how capable you are to have the discussion.
When you notice yourself speeding up, tensing, or becoming triggered, remember to s l o w d o w n.
Although there are myriad variations, there are 4 basic emotions. Not everyone is accustomed to identifying what you’re actually feeling. This is a good place to start. Think of the primary colors and how they mix to infinitely provide different variety. Emotions are like that, and the 4 basic ones are: SAD, MAD, GLAD and SCARED.
One way to identify how you’re feeling is to take a few minutes to write about your physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings. This is very powerful, as it will allow you to gain greater objectivity and insight. Ask yourself the following questions to get started:
- Where do I feel tension or other sensations in my body?
- Feeling into those areas, what emotions are there?
- Simply ask yourself, “Do I feel sad? …mad? …glad? …scared?”
- What do these sensations in my body have to say to me?
- What other thoughts accompany those emotions?
Using descriptive emotion words as a way to express yourself is a Basic Navigation System that helps you take responsibility (the ability to respond) when finding your way through challenges, rather than using blame or shame.
Compare these two communications:
A) You’re always so manipulative and you don’t ever listen to me! (blame/shame language)
Now imagine hearing the same person say the following:
B) Hearing you say that, I feel scared and angry. (responsible language)
* * * * * * *
A) You are always so dramatic and you’re overreacting! (blame/shame language)
Now imagine the same person using this language instead:
B) Hearing you express that, I feel overwhelmed and lost. (responsible language)
* * * * * * *
Here’s a list of emotional terms, so that you’ll always have words to articulate the unique shades and subtleties of emotion that you are experiencing.
There are clear signs that indicate it’s time to take a time-out during difficult discussions. Giving yourself and the person you are with a break to get back into presence and receptivity sometimes makes all the difference in creating a win/win situation. It’s easy to feel pressured to resolve things, but there truly is no rule about having to figure things out on a certain timeline.
We’ve all experienced reasons to take a pause:
- Breathing is shallow, and faster
- Your mind is looking to build your case
- You are no longer grounded in your body
- Tightness in your belly, throat or chest
- Frustration that may lead to rage
- Resentment is building
- You sound defensive to yourself
- You feel scared or hurt
- You are using strategies / insistent to get your way
- You are triggered and no longer truly present
These are all reasons to take a break. Take as long as you need to deeply feel your emotions and understand why you are triggered. We suggest making agreements with your spouse or partner that if one of you asks to slow things down, you WILL. When you recognize that you need a time out, simply say “yellow light” or something else that you agree to, as a signal acknowledging that you want to take a moment to slow things down and center yourself.
Breathe deeply. Perhaps make eye contact and then breathe together. One effective tip to help you relax and keep your center is to slow the tempo of your speech.
If slowing things down doesn’t work, you may need to step away. At this moment, you can have an agreement to use and say “red light”. This means only one thing: stop. This is your signal that you are not able to continue at this moment, and you both agree ahead of time that during a red light, you will honor and respect the need to stop. Do not try to pursue the discussion further at this time.
When you call a red light, we suggest you tell the other person that you do want to discuss the issue, that you care about them, but you are no longer able to discuss it at this time. Give them a sense of when you’ll be available (5 minutes, an hour, 2 days). There are no rules, listen to your inner wisdom and follow it.
Speaking this, you have cleared the way for you to let go of your concern for them and to focus on you and your needs. In hearing this, they can relax into the knowledge that you want to return to this conversation.
During a Time-Out
You can use the time during your time-out to reflect and become more aware of how you are feeling, and what you need. Ask yourself the questions we shared earlier, and as you write, become aware of statements like "I feel betrayed", "I feel abandoned", or “I feel like you _________”. Betrayal and abandonment are actions, not feelings. More importantly, these terms imply that we have been victimized. This can be very disempowering and can be taken as an accusation by the listener, putting them on the defensive and defeating the purpose of your communication.
Now reflect back to the moment during your conflict when you started feeling tension in your body. What did you feel emotionally when they said or did whatever it is you're reacting to? Each time you write an action word to describe this, change your statements to express emotional terms. For instance, changing from "you abandoned me" to "when you (their words or actions), I felt angry/sad/scared." In this, you take ownership of your feelings. This can be very empowering.
Communicating your feelings responsibly is the second most important step you can take towards a smooth and effective resolution, after slowing down. We often bypass this step and end up blaming the other person, or hurrying through our uncomfortable feelings without actually resolving anything. This is all very human and common, because we often lack role models to teach us these skills. It’s never too late!
When You’re Triggered
Sit quietly for 3 minutes, taking long, slow breaths. Through this deep breathing, you’ll relax while developing greater objectivity. Scan your body from head to toe, becoming aware of where you’re holding tension. Where we hold tension informs us as to the emotions we are feeling. Tension in our belly is usually anger. Tension in our heart is often sadness or grief.
Continuing your relaxation, recognize when you’ve had this reaction before, allowing scenes from your past to enter your mind’s eye. As you become aware of scenes from your past, you become aware that not only was this recent experience not the first time you felt these emotions and had similar thoughts, but that you have likely experienced these feelings and thoughts throughout your life.
One valuable gift of this is to recognize that the person with whom you are in conflict did not cause your present upset. Most of our reactionary patterns were learned in the first few years of life. We call these patterns our “default reactionary conditioning” and can be likened to computer software. In our earliest life, this conditioning was input into the “hard drive” of the clear and innocent state we came into this world with….. and the great news is that it can be changed or deleted. This is very empowering.
In our next article, we'll share tools that address judgment. Learn how to engage with the transformative impact of curiosity and empathy without losing yourself.