In Part 1, we talked about the quality of your presence. Today, we will take that a step further.
Tip #2: How to take the conversation deeper
Research tells us that the magic of therapy is what we call the “therapeutic alliance”:the therapist’s ability to connect and develop a healthy, deep connection with the person in therapy. A powerful bond developed between the therapist and client allows healing to take place. It allows the client to feel understood, connected, and validated as a person. In other words, the therapeutic alliance is the relational space created for the client to experience themselves in helpful new ways required for transformation.
The same skill counselors learn to work their magic in therapy is also teachable to couples so they can experience mind-blowing conversation and deep connection.
Disclaimer: The skill I’m sharing in this blog is a higher relational skill, which requires a certain level of personal maturity and a lot of practice. I mean, some therapists even struggle with the implementation of this skill and I rarely teach it to couples in distress while they are attempting to stabilize. However, my intention isn’t to scare you away from learning this skill, but rather to warn you that mastering it will require work on your part—but it’s well worth it in all your relationships. The quality of all of your relationships will soar!
A quick word about communication: Often when we think about communication, we naturally think about the talking piece—what we have to say. However, great communicators understand that being able to effectively listen to the other person is as important as being able to express clearly and directly what we feel is important. And by “listen to the other person,” I mean really hear the heart of the person.
Active listening is a very powerful skill in taking conversation to deeper, more fulfilling levels. If you really want to impact another person, I challenge you to learn how to be an active listener. People will start to hunt you down when they need to have that “deep conversation.”
So, what is active listening? I would define it as the developed skill of intentionally and deeply focusing on what another person is saying—a skill that allows you to understand the meaning and emotion behind what they’re truly saying. Easier said than done.
As a way of testing your skill, the next time you’re having coffee with your BFF or significant other, see if you can focus on what he or she is saying in your conversation without thinking, “I wish they would hurry up so I can say what I want to say.”
Here are the nuts and bolts of active listening:
- Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no,” but rather invite much more information. A well constructed open-ended question is an open door to the soul of the other person.
- Reflection. I can’t emphasize enough how important the skill of reflection is to intimate connection. Reflection is a skill that, if used effectively, will take your conversation to depths that will shock the other person as to how deep and vulnerable they just went with you. (Caution: they will experience a vulnerability hangover the next morning.)
I feel like Uncle Ben on Spider-Man. I must warn you: “With great power comes great responsibility.” 🙂
The skill: When attempting to use the reflection skill, think in terms of listening to what the other person is saying and consider how you would paraphrase what you think they mean or are feeling in the situation. It’s developing an ear for the heart behind their words. Primarily there are three things you’re listening for and reflecting back: content, feeling, and meaning.
Some helpful reflection starters could be:
- “So you feel…”
- “It sounds like…”
- “You are wondering…”
Note: Reflections are not just more follow-up questions. If you’re not careful, it can start to feel more like an interrogation to the other person.
Reflection is simply your best guess of what they’re really saying. With each reflection, you’re guiding them a layer deeper into conversation.
Here’s an example of reflection in action taken from a conversation I recently had:
Me: “Hey, tell me about your new job.”
BFF: “Man, it’s great! I’m so excited because I feel like I’ve worked hard to get here.”
Me: “Sounds like the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.” (Simple reflection of content)
BFF: “You’re telling me. When I got the call, I was excited. So I went to work with a lot of energy willing to do what it takes to be successful.”
Me: “You’re a little nervous about doing your best.” (Reflecting an emotion that he didn’t say, but that was underlying)
BFF: “Yeah, I’d say that’s right. I’ve almost psyched myself out a few times in meetings. Getting worked up and totally blanking on questions. A little embarrassing, but I think I’ll be alright.”
Me: “This is something you can get past once you get settled.” (Reflection of deeper meaning)
BFF: “Yes, for sure. “
Me: “Sounds like with a little time and experience, you’ll be able to settle into this new position and all the demands.” (Reflection of meaning)
BFF: “For sure. That’s exactly what I’m hoping for.”
Me: “With starting something new like this, I could see where you may be feeling a bit nervous or overwhelmed by it all.” (Taking the conversation to a deeper level of underlying emotion)
At this point, the conversation goes into deeper waters. The really awesome thing about this skill is that with every reflection, the conversation is going to another layer of depth and authenticity. Remember that this is a higher relationship skill, so practice, practice, practice and have fun. And if the guys master this skill—well, the ladies won’t have a choice but to fall in love all over again.
Try out tips #1 and #2 tonight and come back next week for the 3rd and final tip for mind-blowing conversation.