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Mindful D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. – The Heart of D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E

This lesson is a part of an audio course The Nature of Effective Communication by Dr. Dalton Kehoe

In segment 5 you've taken the first two steps to using Mindful D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E – the last two letters are the foundation of the process. You've done the "E." – emotional self-management of D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. – and moved yourself towards the U. of D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. seeking understanding first – by asking yourself: "What's really going on here?"

Now that you're calmer, you need to move on to what I call the heart of D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. – the "A.L." Asking them appreciative questions and "L" – listening appreciatively.

I call this the heart of D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. because the more you ask appreciative questions, the more likely you are to find out what's really going on, while calming the other person down. I use the word "appreciative" to reflect two things: the way we talk when using D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. for problem-resolution and our commitment to understanding first.

"To appreciate" means "to be fully conscious of" and to "value and/or regard highly." In difficult moments with another, these must be acts of deliberate choice. Our adaptive unconscious has already tried to make up our mind for us, and because it has been developed to defend us, its judgments are not likely to be appreciative.

When we ask questions, we make sure they are the descriptive 4W2H questions: who, what, where, when, how, and how much. We ask these simple questions to become more fully conscious of the other's point of view. Moreover, we do it in a voice that sounds appreciative of their efforts to answer.

We avoid the sarcasm of the judgmental parent or the frustrated child. We also avoid the "fake" version of the 4W2H questions, such as: "What's wrong with you?" or "Who the hell do you think you are?"

To bridge the disconnection between us, we begin by asking the tediously obvious questions: "(Tell me) What's going on?" "How did it happen?" "How do you see it or feel about it?" "When did you start feeling this way?" But we avoid asking, "Why?"

The search for deeper reasons may be the driving force behind all of science and in the everyday world of analytical processes. But, it is counter-productive in moments of difficult communication. No matter how we sound when we ask it, the other automatically hear "why" as a search for blame, rather than for information.

While they're talking, we carry out the L. of Dialogue…we listen appreciatively. Fully appreciating another's world– valuing and understanding them – involves two simple and interrelated actions: giving our undivided attention and providing occasional understanding feedback.

Understanding Feedback: Describing Their Stuff

To listen appreciatively, you have to take the second step in appreciative listening – you have to talk. Without your providing the other person with understanding feedback, they will have no idea what's going on in your head while they're talking. Most importantly, you need to demonstrate that:

  1. You're trying to see their world from their point of view.

  2. You value them and their thoughts.

  3. You're trying to understand them without judgment.

So periodically, gently interject a summary of what you think you've heard up to that point. Say it in your own words and be concise. You're trying to communicate the essence of their thoughts, not repeat everything they just said. Begin with, "Let me see if I have this …" or "So, it sounds like you're saying … is that right?"

If the other speaks openly about their feelings, directly reflect them back as part of your understanding. Use their words. As part of your feedback, you can say, "And you're really happy about this." Notice that there is a "you are" message in here, but it's not a judgment, only a reflective repetition of what they've just said. If, on the other hand, they are not speaking openly about their emotions, you can still show you're trying to understand. Describe your observations with phrases like: "I can see that you are..." "You seem to feel…" or "You look (or sound) like, you're feeling…"

Your efforts to show understanding are always open to their correction. When you end a quick summary of their thoughts, they may say, "No, that's not it. I really meant…" The same thing can happen with your efforts to reflect how they're feeling in the moment. Let them correct you. After all, this exchange is supposed to be about you understanding them, not about you being right.

In difficult situations, we ask questions and listen appreciatively to get more information. We need to develop a clearer understanding of them. In the process, we are also demonstrating our answer to the question: "How can I speak so that the other will listen – even in this difficult situation – where both of us feel the need to be or feel right?"

To speak so others will listen to us, we start by listening, not speaking.

This is particularly true if what they're saying might threaten us. If that happens, we need to:

  1. Instantly calm ourselves. Deepen and lengthen our next "out-breath."

  2. Turn inward for a moment. Remind ourselves that they may be coming "at us," but their words and feelings are about them. We don't need to agree or disagree, just understand them.

  3. Turn outward and re-connect. Calmly look at them directly.

When it's our turn to talk, we use the first two letters of the word D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. – D.I. "D" – Descriptive talk and "I" – messages. We need to speak descriptively, without judgment – "This is the way it looks to me," and stay focused on our thoughts and avoid the judgment of the other. The best way to do this is to use the I-messages: "I see…I hear …I feel… and to describe what you want to happen – "I need…" or "I would like…

We need to safely get the stuff that swirls around in our heads – our feelings about each of us – out into space between us. Only careful description can do this. Otherwise, we fall back into Control talk, which compels the other to do the same, to defend themselves.

The last letter of D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. is "E." "E" stands for emotional self-management. That's what you're doing when you take the conscious calming breath we described in the previous segment. This is the key to "doing" the rest of the steps in D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. Without using it to move from hot to cooler feelings, you can't do the next step in D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. – the "U" – seeking Understanding First.

As pointed out in the previous segment, this begins by you asking yourself, "What's really going on here?" before starting to talk. Remember that the purpose and mindset of D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E. is the seeking of information about and – full appreciation for – whatever situation you are in with the other person.

Let's see how this works in a difficult situation in our last segment.

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Written by

Dr. Dalton Kehoe

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