My work is doing therapy. I meet with people, and we talk. I also do some play therapy with children, art therapy and experiential therapy, but therapy is mostly about talking together. And the talking together has a purpose. The purpose is to effect change.
Even though I’ve been doing this therapy stuff now for 20 years, my belief in it is always renewed when I meet with someone, such as a family or couple, and even in the intake session, they tell me that talking together like we’re doing is already helping them. Right then. Right there.
It’s a powerful thing, talking. Good talking can produce immediate change. Change in how you think. Change in how you feel. Change in what you do. Change in how you relate to others.
Now, talking in a therapist’s office involves working with a professional, so there’s a lot of training and experience involved in helping with that type of change. But just regular talking together — that’s something we all do with lots of people. Some people are really good at it, but more and more, people are losing track of how to talk effectively. Talking, communicating, listening, connecting — that’s what I’m referring to.
It’s not a subject required in school, but I think it should be.
You see, I think we mostly know how to talk at, not talk with.
Talking at is like dumping out a big bucket of liquid on the other person. You get rid of something heavy. You feel lighter. You get something off your chest. But the other person is all wet with your stuff. Sometimes your stuff is just wet like water; sometimes it’s more toxic than that. Sometimes the liquid is more like poison.
Talking with is quite different. Talking with is like sharing a bucket. You each put in some liquid, taking turns, and you create a new substance that is shared and fresh. It has potential instead of poison.
Talking at is really quite easy. It really just involves you with another person standing by.
Talking with is much more difficult. It involves a connection with another person, not just their presence.
Talking with someone shows you care about them and not just yourself.
Think about the last time you really enjoyed a conversation. What made it enjoyable?
Think about the last time you didn’t enjoy a conversation. What made it no fun?
If you reflect, I would think you’d come up with something like this…
Enjoyable conversation is mutual. It's back and forth. Both of us got to talk. Both of us listened to the other.
A no-fun conversation is one way, and consists of arguing and not listening to the other person. It's boring, and made me angry/upset.
Want to have better conversations with your partner, kids, friends or boss?
There are entire books written on how to communicate better. But you are just reading a short article, so here’s my short suggestion — try these two things:
Pay attention to the conversation.
Tune in to the other person and tune out other things that could distract you. We are so used to multi-tasking with our electronic devices that we often apply this to our conversations. It doesn’t work well with people. So look right at the person you’re talking with, watch them closely and think about how they might be feeling as well as what they are saying. Note the person’s body language and tone of voice. Active listening involves paying attention to both the way something is being said and the words being used to say it.
Wait until the other person is finished talking before responding.
Did you know that we can hear more words per minute than we can speak? Most people speak between 100-175 words per minute. We can listen and understand at a much higher rate—up to 300 words per minute. Because of this difference, we often start responding in our minds while the other person is still talking to us instead of listening at the 100 percent level. So try to truly wait to respond — both outloud and in your head.
Even small change in these two ways can make a big difference in your relationships. Give it a try!
Musings on life and relationships from Family Therapist Tamera Schreur