The communication toolkit
Communication is a big part of our podcast, so it’s time to revisit the five ways to suck less at communication! We’ve been adding to these and evolving them over the past 200 episodes or so, and here are the latest methods to avoid sucking at communication, both in romantic and everyday relationships!
Meta-communication: Essentially, communicate about the way you communicate. Some good ways to meta-communicate are:
Schedule time to talk. Taking time to regularly schedule a RADAR, or a time to discuss your relationship with someone, be it issues either one of you might be having or sharing positive moments, etc., can help mitigate the anxiety-inducing “We need to talk” text or call and promote a healthy discussion.
The Triforce of Communication. When you’re seeking simple support and instead receive advice, or vice versa, it can spark a disagreement or negative feelings. The idea behind the Triforce of Communication is that you preemptively let your partner know what kind of response you’re hoping to receive, whether you just need to vent and receive sympathy or if you want advice about your situation.
Choreography. Taking the time to recognize and analyze your behavior before and during a disagreement (while your partner does the same with their own behavior) can be a helpful way to identify patterns. Take ownership of your own actions when you’re feeling calm and neutral and recognize how you act during times of conflict. When you both realize you’re acting out your usual choreography during a future disagreement, you can instead divert behavior into a more healthy, previously hashed-out choreography to facilitate better communication.
Micro scripts. These are little phrases or words even that couples can create together in order to convey that something needs to be done or that you’re moving in the direction of something. Especially if there are frequent communication breakdowns, micro scripts can give you a dialogue structure to follow to get you to the other side of the interaction.
Clean Talk: As a sort of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) 2.0, Clean Talk has four steps to follow when dealing with an issue or conflict:
Data: Objectively state what happened, rather that putting meaning into it.
Feeling: Express how you’re feeling, using first person language, such as “I feel sad” as opposed to “You made me feel sad.”
Story: Instead of expressing a need that could perhaps be used to control someone else, express a judgment, or an assessment of what happened as it pertains to your own reality. Instead of saying something like “I need X, Y, and Z to happen,” phrase it as “In my opinion, it felt like this” or “In my judgment, this is what I think.”
Express a want: Instead of phrasing this as a yes or no question, express what you want in the future. “I want to feel close to you,” or “I want to feel included in your life” are some examples of expressing your desire without pressuring someone for a finite yes or no answer.
Know when to HALT: Refrain from heated conversations when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Additionally, we’ve added caveats of drinking/on drugs, horny, and sick to HALT, since all of these altered states can deeply affect how efficiently you’ll be able to communicate with someone.
Don’t listen to reply, listen to understand: Instead of focusing on your reply to someone immediately, seek first to understand exactly what they’re saying. Often, we’re already formulating our reply before someone is finished talking, and that can greatly skew our ability to recognize what they’re saying, which in turn can negatively affect your interaction with someone.
Seek an outside perspective: It’s important to give our partners a break, since often we rely on them for quite a lot. Getting outside perspective about communication dynamics can give you a valuable fresh look at how you interact with someone and give you a bit of insight on either the situation itself or your dynamic.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we're finally putting on a revival production of our hit musical, Five Ways To Suck Less At Communication. This was originally a subject that we covered on episode 21, way back in the day.
Emily: That's not available for audiences anymore.
Dedeker: That's over 200 episodes ago.
Jase: Yes, that's true. Since then, we have learned more tools, we've refined the ones that we covered back then. Today, we're excited to present the new and improved Five Ways To Suck Less At Communication.
Dedeker: This seems to me like a really good starter episode, because we're not by any means saying that it's like, "Follow these five steps, and then you're going to be a communication god," nor are we saying that all of these are going to work in your relationship, or work for the style of communicator that you are but this is a good episode to start with.
Dedeker: Yes, it's just like get a little survey of some tools, see what resonates with you. With some of these, we've covered them more in-depth on their own episodes, so you can go check those out as well. Yes, it's a delightful cornucopia of things that can help your communication.
Emily: Yes. Little tool of box time. You take what you like, and leave the rest.
Dedeker: Exactly. Some of these work together quite well, I will say that.
Jase: Yes. Like we said, these are things that we've tested over time. We find over time, some things we covered last time, we're not covering this time. This is the new and most up-to-date five ways to suck less at communication.
Dedeker: Okay. Maybe reason number one why you suck at communication. You're not meta-communicating. Maybe this sounds silly to some of you, or it may make perfect sense to others. I think that one of the major keys to bettering your communication is learning how to communicate about the way you communicate. Okay?
Dedeker: Hence, meta-communication.
Emily: Very meta.
Jase: It's so meta.
Dedeker: Yes, exactly. There are many different ways to do this. A lot of people, I think this is not something they think about until they're working with a therapist or a counselor, because that's often the primary job of a therapist or counselor is to reflect and be this outside observer who is showing the couple or whoever is there in the session, "These are the things that I'm observing of the ways that the two of you communicate." Often, the therapists could act as the person who is bringing that meta-communication analysis onto the table. Many different ways to do this. You don't have to necessarily do this with a therapist.
The first and biggest hurdle to meta-communication is you need to recognize that your communication isn't just something that you can take for granted. You can't assume that just because you said something to your partner, that the message that you intended is going to get across. You also can't assume that just because you heard your partner say something to you, that you fully understand exactly what it is that they meant. You also can't assume that the communication that you grew up with, that was modeled for you, is going to be the same communication that your partner had modeled for them. Chances are it was very different.
Emily: That's a big one right there.
Dedeker: Yes. It's really important to just find, what are the ways that you can take a step back, do that analysis of how is it that we communicate, and also incorporate some tools into your meta-communication as well.
Emily: Yes. Okay. First, let's cover a couple of different ways that we can use meta-communication to enhance our overall communication with our partners. This is just good just for ourselves to know how is it that I'm reacting to the world in communicating.
Jase: I want to clarify too that all of this stuff we're talking about in this episode is not just about with romantic partners. I do want to clarify that. That the title of this episode is not ways to suck less at communicating with your partner. It's communication, period.
Emily: In general, yes.
Jase: I think a lot of these apply especially to our partners where communication is often more intense and more heightened, and maybe more frequent, but I think a lot of this can apply across the board.
Emily: Yes. Okay, the first way that we can use meta-communication to enhance our communication is first, to schedule time to talk. Now, this can be challenging because it can definitely be incredibly scary to hear your partner say those dreaded words, "We need to talk," or, "Hey, let's find a time to talk here." Let's maybe dive into how this can either be viewed as a positive thing rather than a source of anxiety.
For example, to me, I think that if you say something a little-- Just be like, "Hey, there are a couple of things that perhaps I really want to get into with you, or that I'd like to discuss at some point. Do you think that we could have a time to do that? Or even just discuss a little bit about the thing that you're planning to talk about?" Maybe speak about like, "Hey, let's work together to figure out the details of when that talk is going to be, and also specifically what we're going to be talking about." Then, also schedule things like a radar. That's a huge one.
Jase: Can you explain? If this is someone's first episode, what does that mean?
Emily: Well, a radar is a thing that we have cultivated over many, many years of figuring out like, "Hey, we need regularly scheduled time to talk," because it really takes away all of those moments in a relationship where all of a sudden, your partner does maybe say something to you like, "Oh, we need to talk," or, "Let's find time to talk." It can alleviate that a little bit, and instead distill those moments down into potentially like a single time, or a couple of times a month where you have a regularly scheduled meeting, so that you can talk about maybe challenging things, or triumphs that you're having in your life, or in your relationship, or stuffs like that. That's a good way to meta-communicate.
Dedeker: It doesn't have to be that particular formula that we set up in the radar. I think the thing is that if you're in the middle of an argument with someone, where you're on autopilot communication, it's like maybe your feelings have taken the wheel essentially. You're just on autopilot there, that it is hard to meta-communicate in those moments, because it can be hard to switch track essentially, and be like, "Well, I'm mad at you, and I'm also going to criticize the fact that you use this phrasing when you approached me with this. I'm also going to criticize the way that you brought this up." It's probably not going to be a very productive conversation, or a very productive meta-communication.
That's why scheduling a time to talk that's outside of the moments when you're feeling the most heated allows you to open up and to be able to examine what exactly went wrong in our communication. That's why I think the shop thing that we came up with, repair shop, just a couple of episodes ago, that's another good example of some meta-communication because it gives you an opportunity to not only-- You can acknowledge the content of a fight, but mostly it's about figuring out what was the pattern of the fight, or what were the stories that came up, or what were the things in the communication that triggered each of us during the fight. It's a really good example of meta-communication.
Jase: Yes. I think just to add to what Emily had said about scheduling time to talk about it is I find, for me, it helps to emphasize just like, "This thing came up. Maybe I was upset about this thing. It seems like you are upset about this thing. Whatever. Let's make a time where we can come up with a solution together," rather than, "I want to find a time where I can tell you more about how terrible you are." It's like, "Hey, let's work together and figure this out. Can we find the time when we can actually focus on that, because we have other stuffs we have to do right now?" Right?
Jase: To me, I find that helpful.
Emily: To go along with both of what you said, I think it is important when coming to a person, your partner or whomever, for example, and saying, "Hey, there are a couple of things that I'd like to talk about here," is to do it when you are not in a heated moment or in a heated place because that can-- I know for myself, that's happened in the past in my relationships, and I've gotten really anxious, or continued to be anxious until that moment arrives where we do talk about it. If one can come out those moments with a little bit less intensity and just be like, "Hey, there's some stuff clearly that we haven't quite finished or talked on or whatever."Let's schedule some time for that," but then it's not so anxiety-inducing. I think that's really great.
Jase: Our next meta-communication tip here is something that we call the triforce of communication. If you want to check that out in detail, we also have an episode on that. Really any of these things we talk about, if you want to hear more in-depth about it, go to multiamory.com and just use the search box and search. The search works quite well, searches across all the episodes, looks at the transcripts as well as the write-ups to find things that have those words in them. It's quite effective. I definitely recommend trying it out.
The triforce of communication essentially the simplest version of it is, it boils down to not assuming that you and everyone else always want the same thing when you're communicating and so, meta-communicating about that. What we mean is the way this most often comes up is whether someone wants advice or they just want support. If I come home from my day and I'm like, "This thing was really stressful. I dealt with this with my boss."
I want you to say, "Man, that sounds so tough. Let's chill and find a way to relax. That sucks." Instead what you do is, "What you should have said was this. You need to tell your boss that you need to do this thing." "No, they can't tell you like that." Then, I'm just getting more stressed. I think a good indicator when that miscommunication is happening is if one person is giving a lot of advice in response to something and the person is shooting down every piece of advice.
I found that to be a really useful clue that I think actually this person is not looking for advice. I've actually stopped friends of mine who are having that type of conversation in the middle of a conversation. I was like, "Hey, guys. Remember I told you about the triforce before? I think that's happening right here that you're not quite communicating about that." They were like, "No, no, no."
Jase: I said, "Hold on." Just like, "Do you want advice or do you want sympathy and support?" She was like, "I just want sympathy." I was like, "What were you just giving?" "Advice." "Exactly. It's right here." That's a clue when that's happening.
Emily: You're like, "No, I'm right."
Dedeker: Moving on to the next meta-communication tool that you can use. I like to call this choreography, like dance choreography.
Jase: Okay, all right.
Dedeker: I also sometimes call this dominoes when I'm working with my clients. It's not a very fun language.
Jase: Yes, tell us about it.
Dedeker: This is based on a technique that's used often in EFT or emotionally focused therapy, but it's basically-- Again, this is a good thing to do when you're not right in the middle of a fight. It's good if you're at a time that feels more neutral or you're both feeling more calm, is to sit down and basically come up with what your typical pattern is for the fight. What is the fight choreography? How does it work?
Jase: Okay, so fight choreography? I like it.
Emily: I know that's one of--
Dedeker: It could be something like-- The usual fight choreography and it's best if the two of you-- The two of you can do this separately or together, but it's important to make sure that you're only talking about your own choreography and not pointing out what your partner's choreography is-
Jase: Okay, that's an important thing.
Dedeker: - because that's probably going to generate some tension. It could be something where I'm like, "Okay." Let's say maybe the fight starts. I'm like, "Okay." I come into the room and I noticed this thing that I asked you to put away hasn't been put away. My first step of choreography is I get really tense and cold, and I start being maybe a little bit more clipped or curt in the way that I talk to you.
Now, then what's your next step? Then you might be, you being my partner, you'd like, "Okay." Then, when I notice that you're curt or cold to me, then I started getting anxious and I start feeling like, "Oh, maybe she's mad. Maybe I should avoid her." Then, I take more moves to avoid her. Then, I'm like, "Okay." That's your choreography. Then, my choreography from there, once I see that you're avoiding me, then I started to get angry, and then I start to come after you and start--
Again, like I said, it requires a time when emotions are not high and we're able to take ownership of our own shit. That's why I also call it dominoes because sometimes it can be helpful to think of like, "Okay, well, what's the first domino that falls over?" Maybe the first domino is that I noticed this thing, and then not causes this reaction of my partner. Then, when I see that reaction of my partner, then it knocks over this domino on my side.
You can find some really fascinating stuff just following the domino pattern as well. Yes, it's a really, really fascinating exercise I think especially if you're finding yourself having a similar argument over and over and over. It can be really helpful to sit down, figure out your choreography or your dominoes or whatever it is that is the pattern of what has happened. Then, once you had that information, then it's a starting point for being able to find some actionable stuff to disrupt that choreography or create new choreography.
Jase: I'm imagining-
Emily: Of that?
Jase: - we start fighting, we recognize that we're doing the choreography-
Jase: - and we switched to the other choreography we planned, which is actual dance choreography when we start doing the dance, and then that confuses them.
Dedeker: We start doing a flash mob.
Jase: Love it.
Dedeker: That could be helpful. I actually would not dissuade people from doing that because if you can bring in some humor--
Emily: Oh, that would be good.
Dedeker: If humor can help to do away with all that old toxic choreography and help get you into a better space, that can really help for sure.
Emily: I heard Genghis Khan today, and then I remembered when you two started Genghis Khanning.
Jase: Doing the choreography--
Dedeker: That's a great song. That's a great--
Emily: Yes, I think in the middle of something that we were all doing.
Emily: Lovely. Let's move on to number four, which is micro scripts. We talk--
Jase: I want to be clear. This is number four within number one?
Jase: We're still on number one which is meta-communicating. These are just tools for doing that.
Emily: Yes. It's number four of meta-communication. This is something that we like to call micro scripts, which we spoke about in our Communication Hacks Booster Pack episode which happened quite a while ago. I think probably a year ago as well, or six months at least.
Dedeker: Gosh. Was it really that long?
Emily: Yes. I feel it was over a year ago, honestly. It was a while.
Jase: Yes, it was.
Dedeker: Oh my gosh. I could have sworn that was three months ago.
Emily: Yesterday. I know, but it wasn't at all. Just a quick refresher on micro scripts, and Dedeker help me out here because I do think that you created this one, but the way that I like to describe it is that there are little phrases or words even that couples can create together in order to convey that something needs to be done or that we're moving in the direction of something. I like that Dedeker had talked about her sister and her sister's husband coming up with listo when they're like, "Okay, we're ready." or "We're ready to do X, Y or Z thing." or like, "I need the trash taken out." Listo like, "Are you listo right now? Are you ready to do that? Come on."
Dedeker: I think the primary functioning of micro scripts is that it's like if you're left to your own devices, you end up in an argument or especially if it ends up being a nothing fight, it's best to come up with a micro script. Give yourselves dialogue to follow so that we know what the dialogue is, we're not going to stray from it and so, it gets us through it an interaction, it gets us to the other side.
Jase: There's actually a funny one and also having a little bit of humor to it. With listo, it came from saying ready and then their daughter was in Spanish class so then they're like, "Let's use Spanish and it's listo." One that has come up for us is based on a Japanese show that we watched, where there's a scene were the wife is complaining about the father not doing some work or something like that, to the daughter and he overhears this and he's like-- He gets all panicked about like, "Oh, no. They're talking about me." He says, "Otousan yarimasu" which is like, "Dad's going to do it."
Dedeker: That's cute.
Jase: That's one they will say sometimes. It's like--
Dedeker: Well, you'll say it to me.
Jase: I'll say it, yes.
Dedeker: That's our listo.
Jase: A little bit, yes.
Dedeker: It's where if I ask you to do something and maybe you don't feel super excited about doing it, maybe it's a chore or whatever, but rather than you sighing or being passive-aggressive, you're just like, "Otousan yarimasu."
Dedeker: It is this really quick codification of like-- You're just being like, "Okay, yes. Great. I'm going to do it." Then, me also knowing like, "Okay, I know he's doing it. He doesn't really want to do it, but he's going to do it and I can appreciate that."
Dedeker: We don't do get into the weeds around that. One we shared last time, one that I share with my clients all the time is I've been in a journey of healing PTSD for the past couple of years and making great progress, by the way, for all of you who care.
Emily: Good for you. That's awesome.
Dedeker: Part of figuring out managing my PTSD symptoms, I came up with different micro scripts with both Jase and with Alex. With Jase, we came up with what I'm feeling, some triggery feelings coming up or some weird anger feelings coming up for no reason that seem like they're connected to the PTSD that I would just say, "Hey, I'm in puffer fish mode right now," or, "I feel like a puffer fish right now," because that's literally physically how I'd feel, was I feel bloated and spiky.
Dedeker: Just want to send out this radius of like, "Fuck you" to everyone around me for no good reason. Then, the dialogue would go on and Jase would just be like, "Okay, I'll get out the fish gloves." That was it. That was all we needed to talk about. Of course, if I had something on my mind and I wanted to, then I could, but it was just a very triforce one like, "Hey, just so you know, this is the situation," and Jase could be like, "Okay, great. Message received."
Jase: Well, I think also part of that one was, "Should I get out the fish gloves to be able to handle you or should I stay the fuck away?" Just being able to ask that in a way that's not quite as charged as, "Do you want me to talk to you about it or do you want me to leave what you alone?"
Dedeker: Or, "What do you need?"
Jase: Or, "What do you need?" Yes, it adds a little bit of lightness to the question.
Emily: Yes. It adds some levity to the whole situation a little bit.
Dedeker: Yes. There are many, many, many more meta-communication techniques that you can use. These are just a few of our favorites. Let's move on to yet another way that we can suck less at communication. On our last episode when we talked about this way, way back in the day.
Emily: A million years ago.
Dedeker: Yes. We talked about NVC or nonviolent communication. Now, NVC has a wide variety of opinions on it. Some people think it's great and swear by it. Some people think that it's just not accessible enough, especially if you're feeling angry or your emotions are activated in some way. Then, there's some people who think that, "No, this is too easily abused." I don't know, I think that NVC can be abused just as easily as any other communication technique can be, also #Don'tWeaponizeThisShit. NVC, I tend to use in situations where I'm just not sure where to begin with expressing something or I'm not even sure what I feel about it or were just-- When I don't know where to start, it's a good starting point. Jase, in researching NVC, you came up with something that was kind of NVC adjacent or maybe, dare I say, NVC 2.0. Calls Clean Talk.
Dedeker: Clean Talk?
Jase: Clean Talk.
Dedeker: Yes, tell us about that.
Jase: For people who want to learn more about it, the website shadowwork.com.
Dedeker: Sounds foreboding.
Jase: It does and it has to do with the Jungian concept of--
Emily: It’s like shadow puppetry.
Jase: No. It's like the shadow self. Like the Carl Jung--
Emily: Okay, yes.
Jase: That's where the name comes from, from what I can tell. Anyway, under their tools, they have Clean Talk and all the resources are free including the audio lessons about how to do it and a bunch of written stuff. If you want to check it out, you can do that on your own as well. NVC was developed in the '60s and '70s. Then in the late '80s is when Clean Talk-- It was originally called Quarter Talk because it had four quadrants to it. Anyway, in the late '80s Cliff Barry made that and it's been refined since then, along with Alyce Barry, Alice Barry, I don't know. I’m assuming they're related, but I don't know how. They ended up making the CDs about it to explain how to do it and setting up some coachings and things like that. CDs, right? What are those?
Emily: Yes. I’m just laughing at CDs in general. That's amazing.
Jase: It's very similar to NVC in that there's four steps involved in communicating. The first two are pretty similar, but then it diverges with the second two. I feel like Clean Talk actually does a pretty good job of addressing, or at least acknowledging some of the concerns that people have expressed with NVC being easy to weaponize or actually to be coercive rather than to communicate non-violently. It can actually be used to enact violence by coercion on someone else. Anyway, it works to that. We're going to go through the four steps and compare and contrast the two, so we can cover both of them and you can use what works for you.
Dedeker: We are going to do examples at the end.
Dedeker: I know some of you may learn a little bit better or understand a little bit better when we do examples, so just bear with us.
Jase: Okay. Step one. In NVC, this is called observation and in Clean Talk it's called data, but in either case it's the same thing. It's to as objectively as possible state what happened. Just, what is it that happened? It's--
Dedeker: We'll get that in the examples.
Jase: Well, we’ll do some examples, but just objectively stating what happened, rather than putting meaning into it. Just, what were the actual facts of what happened?
Dedeker: Right, okay.
Emily: The second step is feeling, which again, both models call the step feeling. It's just explaining how you feel about the thing that happened. It is in these moments important to express a first person view feeling, not a hidden evaluation of the other person. Not saying, "Well, I feel like you did this thing."
Emily: Or rather, "I feel lonely. I felt challenged. I felt hurt." Something along those lines. There is a difference here to-- Yes, Jase?
Jase: I think that's the challenge, right? It's coming up with what's the real first person feeling-
Jase: - rather than something that we’ll describe as a feeling, but is actually--
Dedeker: An accusation?
Jase: Yes. In that example of, "I feel hurt," that one's a tough one because if we're looking at it grammatically, "I feel hurt-"
Emily: Or, "I felt sad."
Jase: - means that something or someone hurt me.
Emily: Hurt you, yes.
Jase: There's a hidden accusation in there. Again, it depends how it's used.
Emily: Just like, "I felt sad." Yes, yes. Sure, we can get really into the weeds on this but more-- Okay, there are differences in terms of the forms of words that you can use. For example, Jase talked to me about this yesterday, but you can have a passive form of a word. You can say, "I feel lonely," or you can say, "I feel abandoned." Abandoned, as we just said, implies at least that somebody abandoned you because that's the passive form of the verb. To abandon, your abandoning, or abandoned is the passive form of the word, but if you say, "I feel lonely," you're not saying, "I feel lonely because you made me feel lonely." It's just, "I feel lonely."
This is the feeling that is occurring here versus if you were to say, "I feel neglected." You neglected me, or you were showing me neglect, but if you're just like, "I feel sad," it's like, well, you can feel sad for a variety of reasons. It's not, "I feel sad because of X, Y or Z thing," or because your partner did this thing. It is a slight distinction, but again, words are very important. I think that even just taking the time to find the not passive verb, but rather the feeling that is it taking ownership for yourself can go a long way in these moments.
Dedeker: Another one like saying, "I felt embarrassed," as opposed to, "I felt humiliated."
Emily: Yes. Yes, yes. That's huge.
Dedeker: It can get really granular and really specific and almost a little bit challenging to get down to what's the actual core emotion, separate from what anyone else did.
Jase: Yes. I think, Dedeker, you've often said about NVC, that it's something you can do in advance for yourself to prepare to talk about something because I could see how this might take a while to get to the bottom of like, what am I really feeling and not necessarily something that you're expected to just right in the moment always pick the right word.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. The third step in NVC. The third step is expressing a need. It could be something like, "I need to feel supported by you," or, "I need to know that you're there for me, or I need us to prioritize scheduling date nights, whatever it is. In Clean Talk, this stuff is pretty radically different, in my opinion. Instead of expressing a need, you're expressing a judgment. Now, judgment sounds like a harsh word, but basically, this is in response to the fact that expressing a need can still be a way to control someone else. You could be like, "I need you to show me all your text messages that you have with other people. That's a need for me. Sorry, non negotiable."
Dedeker: That's a very controlling thing, but when it's expressed as "Oh, this is a need. This is just what I need in a relationship," it takes-
Emily: What do you do with that?
Dedeker: Yes. It takes the "sting" out of it to make it, I think, a little bit harder to resist that I have boundaries around that as a person hearing that from their partner.
Jase: I feel like this is the step where those accusations of NVC potentially being a way to actually enact coercion on someone else comes from. In my opinion, this step is the one.
Dedeker: That's why in the Clean Talk technique, this is a judgment, or maybe you could call it evaluation, or maybe you could call it a story like we talked about in our Shop episode, going to the repair shop.
Jase: Story is a nice one. I like that one.
Dedeker: Yes. This is the step where you explain your assessment of the situation, being careful to use language that makes it clear that it is your own judgment and it is your own reality, as opposed to some kind of objective assessment of what happened. The idea is that as humans, we judge all the time. We make assessments all the time, and it's necessary. Instead of pretending those stories don't matter or they're totally not real or whatever, we can make it clear that they are our own judgments by specifically using language that enables you to take ownership of them.
For instance, things like I'm trying to think of-- I guess we'll get into the examples, but it's like, for instance, instead of expressing like, "Well, I need X, Y, and Z," your judgment or your story, your assessment may be like, "Well, in my opinion, this is how it felt like it went." Or, "The story that I have in my head around it is that this is what happened, or this is what the dynamic was." Or, "In my memory, this is what stood out to me." Or even just straight up, "In my judgment, this is what I think." Again, reiterating that this isn't like a harsh statement of facts, this is your own perception of the situation, being able to express that to the person that you're communicating with.
Jase: Yes, something I really like about this. In like the article that I read about this that first showed me about what Clean Talk was, was this idea they used the analogy of your judgment being like a tiger and saying that rather than just pretend that this tiger doesn't exist, and then it might get hungry and kill you. Instead, it's like, "Let's acknowledge the tiger and let's have a nice pen for it. Let's take care of it, let's feed it, let's keep it safe so that we're safe from it and it's safe from us."
Jase: Rather than just trying to pretend it doesn't exist because they're making the argument that we all judge, always, all the time. Like you've judged that this episode is worth continuing to listen to. They're saying like, rather than pretend that we're totally objective, let's be real and just say, "Yes, we have judgments," and let's acknowledge them as such.
Dedeker: All right, interesting.
Jase: Okay, and then the last step. In NVC, this is called request. This is now you expressed what you need, which I think in that, they are clear that it's not like, "I need you to do this," because that's the request phase, but it's, "I need to feel valued by you," for example. Or in a Clean Talk, it's just a judgment about how that situation made you feel or what that seemed like to you.
Then here in NVC, you give the request, which is, "And so, I want you to do this with me," versus in Clean Talk rather than a request where all you get is a yes or no answer, instead you express what it is you want. It was almost like what was the need step in NVC for step three is in Clean Talk what you do in step four, which is expressing, but rather than expressing a need, you express a want because again, it's like, "I need oxygen, I want to feel close to you." You know, it's clarifying that difference a little bit.
Then, the idea is that rather than ending that with a, "And so, I want you to do this," instead it's saying, "I want to feel included in your life." Then, the two of you can together on like, "Okay, now how do we get you that?" Rather than, "I'm giving you a request that you either have to say yes or no to, we maybe could negotiate," but instead it presents the opportunity to work together, to figure out how to get you that thing that you want. Right? That thing that's important to you. I go through--
Emily: So, we do--
Emily: Well, it just before that, wanted to throw out our little caveat about either model. It's just the fact that it is really important to know when to use either of these models and realize that you're following a formula, but just because you're doing that, it doesn't make you immune to possible manipulation, being manipulated or being the one manipulating. This is just a really helpful tool for people.
It can point you in the right direction of like how to speak to your partner about some of these challenging issues, especially if something volatile comes up. You find that it's happening often and you're like, "Hey, I want to fix the way in which I'm talking about this." That's great, that's awesome but it's not necessarily a step-by-step guide to being a good person. You also have to really work on like, "Hey, am I being coercive in these moments?" Think about that. Think outside the box or just like, "Well, I went through all the steps and I said the right things, so I'm great, go me,” but rather like, "Am I being coercive here? Let's think about that." Now, yes, we're going to give some examples.
Dedeker: I use NVC sometimes personally and sometimes just by myself, like if I'm upset about something and I'll just kind of write out my own answers to like each of the steps. Then, I realize, "Oh, okay, I think I just need to ask for this." Then, all I have to do is just ask for it or have a conversation about that with my partner of like, "Hey, what do you think about this solution?" I don't even necessarily have to go through the whole thing of expressing and everything. It can be just a good clarifier.
Dedeker: We're going to do our first example here. This is using--
Jase: We just have to write two, right? Two examples we'll go through? Yes.
Dedeker: Yes, so we have two examples and with each one, we do an NVC approach and a Clean Talk approach. With example number one, let's say the situation being that my partner and I had plans to go to dinner, but then they got too busy with work and had to cancel on me or whatever, something like that. I state my observation.
Jase: Which is the NVC?
Dedeker: Yes, with the NVC approach, I state my observation, which is , "You told me that you can't go out to dinner with me tonight because you're too busy with work." Very neutral statement. No spin on it. No nothing, purely just the facts. Then I express my feeling which is, "I feel sad." I express my need, "Because I have a need to be connected with you." Then, I make my request, "Would you be willing to change your schedule and work tomorrow night instead?" That's a request, my partner, is for you to say yes or no to that. Then, depending on how that goes, then we go onto the next thing. That's the NVC approach. Again, this is not necessarily a bad approach. It's just different.
Emily: Yes. We'll do roughly the same scenario, but with Clean Talk. Data instead of the observation, we're calling it data for Clean Talk. "When I hear you say that you can't go out to dinner with me tonight because you're too busy with work," you go onto the feeling which is, "I feel sad."
Jase: That was identical to NVC.
Emily: That was identical, yes. Then, we're going to go on to judgment which is, "It seems to me that we haven't spent much time together the last few weeks and I'm sensing some distance between us." Oh, I like that. I like that, yes. So, you want--
Jase: Yes, I like how it's personal and it's like what-- The meaning I have attached to this thing.
Emily: Yes, it's the, "I feel distant. I feel like there is some distance between us." Your want is, "I want to be close to you," and then you can even have an optional second level want, which is, "Because I love you."
Jase: Maybe not even a second level of want, but a clarification.
Emily: Yes. It's like, "This is the reason why I want to be close to you because I love you, because I care about you."
Jase: Yes, and I think it's interesting that then that's the end. That it doesn't end with --
Emily: Do with that what you will, yes.
Jase: Instead of , "Can you reschedule your work?" I like it because I think it allows the other person to be the one to like, if that's an option they could say, "Okay, yes. That makes sense. Maybe I can reschedule my work for tomorrow." Or if it's not an option, you don't have to ask it and they have to go, "Babe, I can't. It's my job."
Dedeker: Right. Or you could be like, "Oh, okay, this is about you wanting to be close to me and you're feeling like there's some distance? Okay. Well, I can't reschedule my work tonight, but let's coordinate on putting some times in the calendar or adding some extra time to the calendar, or something like that so that we're feeling like we're getting enough time together."
Emily: That's a good one. I like that.
Jase: Right. So, addressing the want rather than just this one specific solution.
Emily: This yes or no.
Jase: Yes. Okay.
Jase: Example number two. In this example, the person who's speaking is considering going back to work full time after having children and is nervous that their partner might not help enough with the child care and things like that for them to do it. Here's the NVC version. Observation. "When I imagine going back to work after being with the children full time," feeling, "I feel scared." Then my need, "Because I'm needing reassurance that the children will be well taken care of," and then the request is, "Therefore, I would like to plan how to provide high-quality childcare while I work and how to find sufficient time to be with the children when I'm not tired."
Dedeker: Wait, where is the request in there?
Jase: It's to plan like, "I want us to plan how we do this."
Dedeker: Can you help me plan because I just read that-
Emily: How to plan. How to provide--
Dedeker: - and I could be like, "Great. Yes, go plan that."
Jase: "Go plan it."
Jase: This example maybe could be enhanced by, "And I want you to do X amount of the childcare."
Dedeker: Like, "Can you help me plan how to provide childcare?"
Dedeker: Or something like that. Okay, so let's take the same scenario with Clean Talk. We start out with data. Okay. With both of these, I think it's interesting because it's not like an external observation, it's specifically about the thoughts that come up within you because with both of them, it's like, "When I imagine going back to work after being with the kids full time," you know?
Dedeker: That's the thing that sparks the feeling which is, "I feel afraid." Then, the judgment, "I think that I'm going to face risks, both at work and at home. I'm worried that at work, it's going to be hard to focus if I'm thinking about the kids are I'm worried about the kids being cared for and then at home, I'm worried that I might be too tired to have quality time with my children." Okay?
Again, phrasing it in the fact that it's like, "These are the things that I think. This is what I sense. This is what I worry about," things like that. Then, ending with the want, "I want to find high quality childcare and I want to plan for a time with the kids when I'm not tired." Again, with the clarifier, "Because I want both professional fulfillment and to be a good mom."
Dedeker: I think I would even get more specific at that like, "I want us to collaborate on finding a workable solution to this problem."
Jase: I want support in doing this and to feel like a partnership.
Jase: Then, it can go on from there to, "How do we do that?"
Dedeker: Yes. I definitely encourage you to give it a try, especially, I think, practicing all your own. At first, it's really helpful to write things out. This is especially helpful if you're not quite in the heat of the moment. If you've given yourself some time, I think, to chill a little bit, and then gather your thoughts, and then bring this to your partner, I think is when these kind of frameworks are the most effective.
Emily: All right.
Jase: All right. On to number three. The third way to suck less at communication is to know when to halt. This is something we reference.
Dedeker: We love this one.
Jase: I know, we reference it so often.
Dedeker: We revisited this pretty frequently, pretty recently is what I meant.
Jase: Yes, so, we're not going to go into a ton of depth on this one, because we have covered it a lot of other places and I also think the concept is pretty straightforward. Basically what this is, is that even with the best of intentions, sometimes our emotions or even just our physical bodies can get the best of us and cause us to not behave or speak in the best, wisest way that we could, and--
Jase: Yes. HALT is an acronym that stands for hungry, angry, lonely or tired and it's basically, if you're any of those things, and you're having a heated discussion, stop. Just halt, just stop having the conversation, address those things, and then come back to it. Maybe that means you're tired, you got to come back the next day. Maybe it means you're angry, you need some time to cool off. Maybe you're hungry, you just need to go get a snack, whatever it is. We've also added to this, we've added some other letters, we added horny, we've added drinking/drugs, and we've added being sick, so now it's, HALTDDS, so--
Emily: It doesn't quite roll off the tongue as easily as the other but--
Jase: Yes, so, we usually just say HALT. That's it, it's pretty straightforward. It's like, be aware of those things and that as humans, that's important to us and we can't just power through and I think sometimes it's so tempting to just, "No, I've got to just power through it and get through this," but it's actually more effective to not.
Dedeker: Sometimes it's not quite as easy as just halting. Sometimes it's really helpful to have a plan in place of, "Okay, now that we've halted, we got to plan," or maybe we even have a micro script about what happens after we halt. Do we take a break? Do we go into separate rooms? Do we just do a different activity together, and then revisit it? Things like that. We talked about that more in depth pretty recently on episode 218 that is aptly titled, "I've halted, now what?"
Dedeker: Go check that out for a little bit more information about this.
Emily: Yes. All right, let's go on to the next one, which is-
Jase: Number four.
Emily: - an interesting one. Maybe you'll have heard of this little book called Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We did a little spin on it once called Seven Habits of Highly Effective Poly People, but that's a whole another thing.
Emily: Again, you can go check out that episode, but Dr. Stephen Covey.
Jase: When we started, he said Covey.
Emily: Covey? Okay, so, he created this thing, seek first to understand then to be understood--
Dedeker: Did he create that?
Jase: Yes, it's fifth of the seven habits.
Dedeker: Oh, is it?
Jase: Yes, I think it's the fifth.
Emily: Oh boy, did this next sentence that he said in the book-
Emily: - kick me in the face.
Emily: He has this to say, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply." Oh boy, maybe we need to read that one more time.
Emily: "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listened with the intent to reply." That's huge right there and I don't know about you, but I've definitely been in conversations where I completely missed what the other person is saying, or maybe I hear it but I just am really thinking about my retaliation or the thing that I'm about to say that's like really good because I'm fired up and I'm angry or pissed off or whatever.
Even in moments where I'm not pissed off, just it's like, "Well, I'm not actually listening to this person because I've got something really quippy and fun to say so, whatever. Who cares what they're saying?" This book, it's usually thought of as a business advice book but this piece to us is really important in every aspect of our lives that involves anyone, any other person. Not just your relationships, like your romantic relationships, but your relationships with anyone. It is, as I know, a lot harder to implement than it seems but if you do seek to understand first, understand what another person is saying, it is incredible, the results can be hugely powerful.
Dedeker: Can I go on a brief tangent about language? The linguistics?
Jase: Oh yes, love language.
Dedeker: Again, with this whole thing of listening with the intent to reply rather than the intent to understand. I've studied Japanese for a number of years now and my Japanese professor had this theory. I don't know if this theory holds water at all, it was just his armchair psychology theory but he had this theory that, he thinks that Japanese people or Japanese speakers tend to be maybe a little bit more polite, or at least perceived as more polite than people who speak English.
The reason for it being, he thinks because it's built into the structure of the language. In English, our verbs tend to come toward the beginning of the sentence. I can start a sentence with-- Emily, maybe you asked me, "Hey, do you think that you could do this task for me?" I can start my sentence, like, "I can't do that," yadda, yadda, yadda. Now you've gotten that information already at the beginning of the sentence.
Immediately as soon as you hear the word, "I can't," you can already be ready to start to reply and maybe to formulate a reason why you're going to tell me, "Yes, but I really need you to do this." Or, "Whatever your reasons are, it's ridiculous," or whatever. You can already get into that mode of, as soon as you've gotten the first two words of my sentence, that you can start to reply.
Dedeker: Versus in Japanese, a lot of important information, including the verb, comes at the very end of the sentence. This is going to sound weird but in Japanese syntax, I'd be like, "Well, this task that you want me to do, looking at my schedule, because of these reasons, on this day, there's going to be this particular thing and so, because of that, it turns out, I can do it or I can't do it."
Dedeker: It's like, you need to listen to everything that I have to say before I get to the end of the sentence. Of course, this isn't perfect and of course, it's quite easy even for Japanese speakers to get into that mindset of wanting to reply. However, I remember that was his theory-
Emily: That's fascinating.
Dedeker: - because in many situations, you're forced to listen to the end of the sentence before you can actually have a reaction to what that person is saying, that maybe that makes Japanese speakers slightly better listeners than the rest of us English speakers.
Dedeker: Again, I don't know but I always think about that with the whole formulating your response before you've listened to everything that other person has had to say.
Jase: Yes. I want to expand on this a little to that, that this isn't just about that scenario which we all do of, "I'm already thinking about how I'm going to reply before you've finish talking." That it's not just to that but I think another part of the, seek first to understand then to be understood is-- Especially it comes up when I've assumed certain things about what you value and what you think about this thing and why you might be making these decisions.
I already have these assumptions about why you're doing it or why you're going to say a certain thing that you're going to say and those things are wrong more often than they're right and we're just not about aware of it because we don't take that time to figure it out. It's also partly that, it's like actually taking the time when they say it to be like, "Okay, is that-- To use Dedeker's example, "Oh, okay. Is that because you're too busy in general or because you don't have time this week, you want to do it next week or is this just something you don't think you'll have any time for?"
It's that. It's like, 'I want to really understand why you're answering this right now, why this is what you're doing before,' and then try to convince you of something because maybe just understanding will be enough for me to go, "Oh, this does line up fine actually." Or, "I shouldn't keep trying to convince you of this thing because there's some other reason why that's just not going to work." In either case, just taking the time to find out is really important.
Dedeker: Yes. As for some practical ways on how to do this, there's a couple techniques. We can talk about some active listening techniques. A really common one is something that's known as reflecting, which is a technique that is going to challenge how good your ability is to listen to the person who is speaking to you. There's a couple of ways to do reflecting. One of them is by mirroring and that is pretty straightforward.
It's listening to this person expressing their feelings, expressing their take on the situation and then, repeating back to them exactly what they said. I think it can be helpful again to meta-communicate here and to even be clear of like, "Okay, I'm going to mirror back to you what you said. Let me know if I got it right". Again, try to keep it simple. Stick to the point. It assures your partner that you're paying attention, you're receiving what they said. It allows them to have the opportunity to correct anything that you may have misheard or misunderstood as well.
Jase: Yes. Can I go on a quick rant?
Emily: Yes. I just was going to say that hearing mirroring and reflecting just reminds me of acting class where you're supposed to do movements, and then mirror your partner's and I was like, ''Argh."
Jase: It's a little different.
Emily: It's important. Absolutely.
Jase: Yes. I just want to go-
Emily: What's your rant?
Jase: - on a little rant about this. Going along with our caveat for everything of like, ''Don't weaponize this shit and it's important to approach it from a place of actually trying to be a better communicator and not just be more manipulative." A way that I've seen this done poorly actually was at a talk that all three of us went to-
Dedeker: Oh, gosh.
Jase: - where the man leading the talk, someone from the audience would ask a question, and maybe their question would be a little bit long or a little confusing and he would go, "Okay, let me summarize your question," and then he would say what he thought the question was and ask that to the people on the panel.
Dedeker: He wouldn't actually mirror back to them?
Emily: No, he just--
Jase: It wasn't, "Tell me, I did get that right?" It's just, "I'm going to--"
Emily: Oh, "This was the question," and people would be like, "Actually, no."
Emily: He's like, "Oh, okay. Well then, it was this," but it's still wasn't the right one.
Jase: Right. Again, not coming at it with that intention of to understand, rather than to explain to you what you're asking or what you think.
Emily: That's just to be arrogant.
Jase: Yes, truly arrogant. Just something to point out, that one is mirroring that Dedeker just explained is trying your best to verbatim exactly the same words that they used, say it back to them to get that clarification of like, "Is this what you said?" The other one is paraphrasing. Same idea but this time you're intentionally choosing your own words to explain it and again, this one's more about, "Now, did I get that nuance right?" I think this was one where you're more likely to screw it up.
Dedeker: Right. Yes, you're more likely to screw it up because I think instead of using your own words to paraphrase what you heard your partner say, it can quickly turn into using your own interpretation when you paraphrase it back. You could be like, "Okay, so what you're saying is that you think that I'm a shit head."
Dedeker: That's The first thing that came into my mind.
Emily: No, totally.
Dedeker: I'm sorry, that was just what came to mind.
Dedeker: When you're like, "No, that's not what I said."
Dedeker: It can easily turn into just throwing back your own interpretation of things back at your partner, which is different.
Jase: I actually think this is why I like paraphrasing better than mirroring because in mirroring, I might say back to you the same exact words you used but those mean something different to me than I do to you.
Jase: Whereas if I paraphrase it back to you saying, "So, are you saying that this is how you feel?" and I do my best to explain it back using my own words, it gives them the opportunity to go, "Uh--"
Dedeker: "No, not quite."
Jase: "Yes, for this part but I didn't mean it this way. It was this other way." Again, the intent being to understand, rather than the intent being, like Dedeker was saying, to just throw it in your face.
Emily: "Oh, well. I heard you say that you actually think that I'm kind of a bitch or whatever."
Dedeker: Again, this is another one to cue it up ahead of time to be clear, like, "Okay, I'm going to paraphrase back to you what I think that I'm hearing. Let me know if this is correct," and you do your darndest to be cool about it.
Emily: That's good.
Emily: With all of these things, something to really keep in mind and something I think for life, in general, is to come at all of these with curiosity and with intention and conviction, as my mother would say. In all of those things, just to focus on understanding others as well as possible because it can bleed into other areas of your life. It can be powerful for all areas of your life.
Just if you have this curiosity and this want and this need to learn more about life and learn more about the people around you and not just focus so inward. That's always a great thing for everyone. Dale Carnegie, he has this quote about the beauty of curiosity and how it makes you irresistible to everyone around you. The quote is, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." That's good.
Dedeker: I like it.
Emily: Less gems on this one, Jase. Good job.
Dedeker: The last thing to help you suck less at communication is to seek an outside perspective. If you're experiencing frustration, if you're experiencing constant communication breakdowns, there's really so much that you can do or that your partner can do to figure it out. We tend to put a lot of expectations on our romantic partners in general to play all these different roles of being your sex partner, your therapist, your best friend, your personal trainer, your workout buddy, all these things.
Give your partner a break. Seek some perspective from someone outside of the situation who can either comment on the situation itself and help you come to some solutions or help you observe, what are the communication dynamics that are happening here and give you a little bit of perspective on that. This can be a therapist, this could be a counselor, this could be group therapy. This could be a really helpful online community like our Patreon community. It could be a best friend, it could be a polyamory discussion group or a processing group. It could be so many different outlets, but find a way to just get an outside perspective on things.
Jase: All right. In our bonus secret for sucking less at communication, for our Patreons, we're going to be talking about that. We're going to be talking about some philosophy, some Plato and Socrates a little bit in that. If you want to check that out, you can get access by going to patreon.com/multiamory and become one of our $7 or higher Patreons there. We would love to hear from all of you. What are your thoughts about this?