Which is more powerful -- words or actions? Both are critical forms of communication that complement one another. However, most people struggle with authentic dialogue, lacking in the confidence and emotional self-regulation to interact with others, mainly when emotions run high and differences of opinion are strong. Words can be uplifting and transformational, or they can be damaging and hurtful. When it comes right down to it, relationships are all we have in this world, so clear communication skills are the hidden gold in a successful and fulfilling life.
Two experts that have significantly impacted the way people communicate in their relationships are partners in life and work, Helen LaKelly Hunt Ph.D., and Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. They are the founders of Imago Relationship Therapy, which aims to "promote the transformation of couples and families by creating a relational culture that supports universal equality." You may be familiar with many of their bestselling relationship books, including the wildly popular and recently revised title, Getting the Love You Want - A Guide for Couples. They do profound work by providing people with the tools to transform conflict into opportunities for healing and growth.
Recently, Hendrix and LaKelly Hunt launched a powerful program in their hometown of Dallas, Texas called "Relationships First." Working with community organizations such as schools, churches, police departments, and First Responders, Hendrix and LaKelly Hunt teach people how to connect and communicate effectively, despite their differences. Using a three-step process called "Safe Conversations," the program helps people from all walks of life and backgrounds become more compassionate and mindful in all of their relationships.
The three key concepts involved in a "safe conversation" are mirroring, validating and empathizing. Here's a short rundown of the process: When having a "safe conversation" your partner is to mirror back exactly word-for-word what you have expressed. The purpose is to deeply understand what was said and confirm that it has been heard and received. Secondly, the person on the listening end of the conversation needs to validate what is being expressed. Can you understand the other person's point of view? You do not have to agree with it necessarily, but you must continue asking questions until you have a firm comprehension of the person's opinion or point of view. What follows is empathizing. Can you put yourself in the other person's shoes? Can you imagine what it feels like when the other person was sharing their message with you? Is there anything else that needs to be said?
The overwhelming success of the Relationships First program is proof that when you learn to communicate without criticism and listen without judgment, it is possible to find common ground beyond your differences. We all want to be seen, and heard. Essentially, this translates to getting the love you inherently desire as a human being.
Communication is equally important in the workplace. When the focus is on alignment (rather than agreement or disagreement), you are able to realize far higher levels of satisfaction, cooperation, and collaboration in all your relationships.
So, the next time you find yourself in a meeting where opinions clash, or you disagree with a co-worker, try being vulnerable enough to come to alignment. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a sure path to more meaningful conversations and profound connections. Take a page from the "safe conversations" book and share accounts or stories that will help illustrate your view and allow your feelings about the situation to emerge. Paraphrase your understanding of the issue at hand from the other person's perspective to ensure clarity. Offer open, honest feedback and remember that you share the same needs as everyone else in the room -- to be seen and to be heard -- and watch the magic and the "love" unfold.