Category Archives: ACTIVE LISTENING

Healthy Complaining Vs. Harmful Complaining in Relationships

Healthy Complaining Vs. Harmful Complaining in Relationships


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As a Licensed Marriage and family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology Consultant, I wholeheartedly agree with John Gottman’s assertion that it’s a myth that happily married people don’t complain about each other’s behaviors.  The reality in partnerships and marriages is that we all have our own idiosyncratic needs, rhythms, desires, and habits.  Inevitably, sometimes our different needs and desires can collide.  Given that it’s inevitable that partners in relationships inevitably have complaints about each other, it’s incredibly helpful for the vitality and well-being of your relationship to know how to engage in healthy complaining vs. harmful complaining

One strategy that simply won’t work, however, is stifling your complaints and burying them alive.  This well-intentioned strategy or fear-based endeavor only serves to create “negative sentiment override.”  In other words, over time your bad thoughts about your partner override your positive thoughts about your partner, and you eventually associate him or her with feelings of pain, resentment, anger, or loneliness.  When you stockpile your grievances, your bad feelings fester and grow, and sooner or later you find yourself distancing yourself emotionally from him or her to avoid feeling pain, or you might lash out at your partner while he or she feels blindsided because your silence has left them clueless and in the dark.  When your offending partner is in the dark, he or she can’t improve his ability to meet your needs because he doesn’t know what is wrong until after you’ve already hit your limit and exploded with a barrage of criticisms.

In a moment, I’m going to share with you examples of harmful complaining, and then I’m going to then share with you healthy ways to complain to your partner instead.

Harmful Complaining


Harmful Complaining:  Describe your perception of the problem as an absolute truth:  “Anyone can see that…”

Harmful complaining:  Stockpiling complaints

Harmful complaining:  Make broad, sweeping statements using always or never:  You never take me anywhere…

Harmful Complaining:  Digging up grievances from the past

Harmful Complaining:  Don’t complain:  Expect your partner to mind read and guess your needs and desires…

Harmful Complaining:  Criticize your partner’s personality or character

Harmful Complaining:  Give your partner unsolicited advice, telling him what he  should or shouldn’t do, say, behave, appear, etc.


Harmful Ways to Respond to a Complaint


Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Ignore the complaint, stonewall, be dismissive of the complaint, become defensive, and/or counterattack.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Belittle or criticize your partner for complaining, become sarcastic, condescending, critical, or contemptuous.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Defend yourself; find justifications and rationalizations for your behavior, your lapses in integrity, your broken agreements, etc.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Deny responsibility for the problem and deflect the blame back on the other person.  Ultimately, we must remember that we are responsible for how we choose to respond to people, regardless of how they treat us.


Healthy Complaining


Healthy Complaining:  Express your needs and/or complain in ways that are clear, respectful, specific, and immediate.  Your partner is more likely to hear your complaint and respond to it when you share your complaint in this manner; this approach leads to problem solving, building intimacy, and strengthening your relationship.

Healthy complaining:  Share responsibility for the problem vs. blame problem on other person

Healthy complaining:   Describe the problem in terms of your perception, opinion, or style:

Healthy Complaining:  Focus on a specific problem, tackling each problem one at a time

Healthy Complaining:  Focus on the present

Healthy Complaining: Focus on your partner’s actions and share how they make you feel (“when you do…, I feel…”)

Healthy Complaining:  Tell your partner about your needs, longings, and desires

Healthy Complaining:  Ask your partner for what you want rather than focus on what you don’t want.  Address his or her behavior instead of his or her character.

Healthy Complaining:  Ask your partner first if he or she is open to hearing your complaint and/or constructive feedback; Asking him or her first respects your partner’s autonomy and opens their hearts to being more receptive to what you wish to share.

Healthy Complaining:  Preface your complaint by first sharing your positive intention and positive desired outcome for  sharing your complaint in the first place.

Healthy Ways to Respond to a Complaint


Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint: Rephrase your partner’s complaint so your partner feels heard, acknowledged, and trusts that you understand what he or she is saying

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Ask questions for to understand your partner’s frame of reference more.  Ask open-ended questions to give him or her room to elaborate and share even more about what’s weighing on his or her mind.

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Acknowledge and empathize with the feelings behind your partner’s complaint, even if you don’t agree with what he or she is complaining about

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Take ownership for your actions and apologize when an apology is warranted.

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Take responsibility for your contribution to the problem

Healthy way to Respond to a Complaint:  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  In other words, listen first, talk second.

Healthy way to Respond to a Complaint:  Be mindful of your body language, and respond with a receptive, soft tone of voice

Please keep in mind that it’s not uncommon that one or both partners in a relationship are highly sensitive to complaints and criticism. People who are highly sensitive to complaints and criticism likely developed these patterns in childhood:  usually this heightened sensitivity stems from growing up in homes where there was substance abuse, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, abandonment, or emotional neglect.  Small Children are naturally Egocentric and falsely believe their actions cause family problems or instability. They feel responsible for the unfortunate circumstances going on in their lives that are beyond their control.  In turn, they are prone to blaming themselves for their parent’s divorce, the death of a loved one, their parent’s abrupt departure to fight in wars, etc.  As they grow up, they feel compelled to defend themselves, to say constantly, “It’s not my fault.” If they hear a complaint, they automatically brace themselves and prepare to fight back, whether they’re under attack or not.

This can be a real struggle in a close partnership or marriage.  What starts out as one person sharing his needs can quickly devolve into a full-fledged battle.  The highly sensitive partner might be prone to jumping to distorted conclusions about what his or her partner is saying and presume that he or she is being deliberately hurtful or malicious when this may not be the case at all.  The antidote or solution to this pattern is for the highly sensitive partner is to listen carefully to the words his partner is saying when he is stating a need or a making request; your partner may not be as critical as you first think.  Be particularly aware of times that you automatically react by defending yourself.  Think or imagine a different response instead, and mentally rehearse that new response in your mind’s eye repeatedly so that you’re more likely to respond in kind the next time you feel emotionally criticized. Take a deep breath, pause, and courageously challenge yourself to agree to anything that your partner says that rings true.  If you wish, you can also summon the courage to ask your partner to tell you more about his need or complaint.

If your partner is highly sensitive, take extra care to avoid criticism when stating your needs.  If your partner responds defensively, avoid responding the same way; respond to defensiveness by clarifying your statement of need.

Thank you for taking your time to read this blog.  I hope that you found it illuminating and helpful.


John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

( MNLP/CHT/Dharma Life Coach & Sports Psychology Consultant)


What is NLP (Neuro-Lingusitic Programming)?

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As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Master Neuro-Linguistic Programmer, I want to take a moment and share with you what NLP stands for; Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a name that encompasses the three most influential components involved in producing human experience: neurology, language and programming. The neurological system regulates how our bodies function, language determines how we interface and communicate with other people and our programming determines the kinds of models of the world we create. Neuro-Linguistic Programming describes the fundamental dynamics between mind (Neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behavior (Programming).

To define “Neuro” more clearly for you, I want to add that it includes our nervous system (the mind) through which our experiences are processed through our five senses: More specifically Visual (sight), Auditory (hearing), Kinesthetic (touch), Olfactory (smell), and Gustatory (taste).  In NLP, we believe that we encode and give meaning to our sensory experiences through our use of Sub Modalities.  Visual Sub Modalities, for example, include whether or not the images in our minds are in black and white, color, near or far, bright or dim, focused or unfocused, moving or still, framed or panoramic, associated or disassociated, etc.  Auditory Sub Modalities include whether or not what we hear is loud or soft, internal or external, fast or slow, high in pitch, low, etc.  Kinesthetic Sub Modalties include whether or not our felt sense of our experiences have a shape to it, a texture, a size, a weight, a movement, a location in our bodies, etc.  In NLP, Master NLP Practitioners like me change a client’s Sub Modalities (with his or her permission and collaboration) so that we can change the way he or she has encoded and given meaning to his experiences, if it will serve his or her highest good to do so.

For example, if a client of mine has a daunting picture or movie in his mind’s eye of an upcoming tennis match, and it appears to him in black and white, dim, and loud with the sound of tennis balls being whacked all around the court, I might encourage him to make the picture or movie colorful, bright, and accompanied by the sight of tennis balls moving in slow motion with a muted sound. If his opponent appears to him in his picture or movie as 10 feet tall, I might encourage him to freeze the frame, shrink it in size, and make his opponent appear 1 inch tall with big ears and bushy eye brows.  I might even encourage him to add a circus soundtrack to his picture or movie to help him laugh and see his tennis match as funny and therefore something to look forward to.

If the nervousness he is feeling feels like a cold, rectangular piece of sharp glass located in the pit of his stomach, I might encourage him to make the cold, rectangular shape of sharp glass in the pit of stomach warm, round, soft, and ask him to then imagine pushing that rectangular object out of his stomach to the opposite side of the room.  By changing his Sub Modalities, or the ways he is encoding and giving meaning to his tennis match, I’m changing his “internal representation”, or interpretation, of what his tennis match really means; It’s an opportunity to have fun, embrace the challenge, and do his very best.  After all, Master NLP Practitioners don’t believe that there is such a thing as failure; there is only feedback.

Changing his picture or movie of his match will change his “State” (feelings), which in turn will change his physiology and body language.  This is one of the many goals of NLP; to change a client’s  “internal representations”, or his  interpretations of events that are being influenced by his senses and 5 senses and respective Sub Modalities, so that he can change the way he sees the past, the present, and the future as well as how he sees himself, others, and the world around him.

When I use the term “Linguistic”, I am referring to the language and other nonverbal communication systems through which our neural representations are coded, ordered, and given meaning.  These neural representations include pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes, smells, and words (Self-Talk.)  These words also include the metaphors, similes, and analogies we use as well as the many symbolic ways that we express ourselves. When we change these neural representations, we are able to change our states and internal representations of the world, and we are also able to communicate with others far more effectively.  The language used in NLP is often sensory grounded to code what we’re capable of doing behaviorally.

When it comes to “Linguistics”, Master NLP practitioners like me wholeheartedly believe that only 7% of communication with others consists of the words we use; 38% of communication consists of the tone that we use; finally, 55% of our communication with others consists of our physiology, or body language.  Therefore, when we choose to mirror someone else’s words, tone, and body language, we’re able to build rapport with them almost instantly.

Another way that master NLP practitioners use language powerfully is by incorporating hypnotic language when working with clients.  When NLP originators John Grinder and Richard Bandler teamed up with the father of hypnosis, Milton Erickson, they realized that using NLP techniques and patterns in concert with Erickson’s hypnotic phrasing helped them to affect positive change in their clients even more rapidly than they did beforehand.  Erickson’s hypnotic language is merely a way of using words to bypass a client’s conscious resistance so that he or she is receptive to the very changes in their lives that they want to create!!  A typical Erickson language pattern often used is called “tag questions.”  If a client of mine wants to believe that she’s capable, but she consciously believes that she’s incapable, I might use a tag question by saying, ” You know better than anyone that you’re capable, don’t you?”

As a Master NLP Practitioner, I know that speaking to a client’s conscious mind and saying, “you’re capable” will likely go in one ear and out the other; my words will be met with resistance.  However, my use of the tag question, “Don’t you?” will bypass his or her resistance to this new truth, and his or her unconscious mind will be far more receptive to agreeing with my empowering assertion. In light of all that I’ve shared with you about “Linguistics,” I would offer to you that NLP is clearly a powerful way of using the language of the mind to consistently achieve specific and desired outcomes.

When Master NLP practitioners use the word, “programming, ” they’re referring to a person’s unconscious belief systems, their memories, emotions, neuro-associations (the feelings we associate with certain people, places, and things), value systems, “parts” to their personality, communication styles and patterns, habits, strategies, behaviors, and the countless other ways we’ve been conditioned to perceive, experience, and show up in our lives and in the world.

As a Master NLP Practitioner, I believe that NLP is so powerful because its techniques allow us to access and get in rapport with our unconscious minds. This is so significant because it is believed that only 8% of our moment to moment awareness is conscious, and 92% of our moment to moment awareness is unconscious, or presently inaccessible to us; instead, everything else that we that don’t know that we know is housed in the bejeweled warehouse of our unconscious minds.

Almost magically, NLP patterns, techniques, insights, and experiential exercises help us to reprogram our minds and come up with new programs, strategies, and behaviors  that we can  run in our neurological systems to achieve our specific and desired outcomes. When we assimilate these specific set of unconscious strategies, we create the differences that make the difference in our lives.  When our unconscious beliefs, values, and personal self-concept/sense of ourselves are in alignment with our conscious set of beliefs, values, and self-concept, we feel integrated, whole, complete, and newly empowered!!

Although you may have never heard of the following NLP techniques and patterns, some include the Time Line Technique, Parts Integration, Anchoring, Future Pacing, Visualization, Mental, Emotional and Psychological Rehearsal, the Swish Pattern, Mapping Across, The Modeling Process, The Inner Sage Pattern, The Charles Dickens Pattern, the Walt Disney Pattern, Voice Dialogue Technique, Rapport Building, working with Primary Representational Systems, Developing Sensory Acuity, The Falling Out Of Love Pattern, The Enough is Enough Pattern, The Movie Rewind Pattern, etc.  As a Master NLP Practitioner, I have found that NLP tools and skills work powerfully in the development of states of individual excellence and enhancing human performance. In addition, they establish a system of empowering beliefs and presuppositions that reveal what human beings are, what communication is, and what the process of change is all about.

NLP is therefore a multi-dimensional process that involves the development of behavioral competence and flexibility, but also involves strategic thinking and an understanding of the mental and cognitive processes behind behavior.  At another level, NLP is about self-discovery, exploring identity, and mission. It helps us access the treasure trove of wisdom and resources that are housed in our unconscious minds and brings our wisdom and resources to the surface of conscious awareness so that we can access our full human potential.   In addition, it also provides a framework for understanding and relating to the ‘spiritual’ part of human experience that reaches beyond us as individuals to our family, community and global systems. NLP is not only about competence and excellence; it is about wisdom and vision.

According to Master NLP Practitioner Robert Diltz, NLP is essentially founded on two fundamental presuppositions:

1. The Map is Not the Territory.  As human beings, we can never know reality. We can only know our perceptions of reality. We experience and respond to the world around us primarily through our sensory representational systems. It is our ‘neuro-linguistic’ maps of reality that determine how we behave and that give those behaviors meaning, not reality itself. It is generally not reality that limits us or empowers us, but rather our map of reality.

2. Life and ‘Mind’ are Systemic Processes. The processes that take place within a human being and between human beings and their environment are systemic. Our bodies, our societies, and our universe form ecology of complex systems and sub-systems all of which interact with and mutually influence each other. It is not possible to completely isolate any part of the system from the rest of the system. Such systems are based on certain ‘self-organizing’ principles and naturally seek optimal states of balance or homeostasis.

All of the models and techniques of NLP are based on the combination of these two principles. In the belief system of NLP, it is not possible for human beings to know objective reality. Wisdom, ethics, and ecology do not derive from having the one ‘right’ or ‘correct’ map of the world, because human beings are not capable of making one. Rather, the goal is to create the richest map possible that respects the systemic nature and ecology of ourselves and the world we live in.

As a Master NLP Practitioner, I believe that the people who are most effective in life are the ones who are most flexible and have a map of the world that allows them to perceive the greatest number of available choices and perspectives. They use NLP patterns and techniques to enrich the choices that they have and perceive as available in the world around them. They recognize that excellence comes from having many choices, and they believe that wisdom comes from having multiple perspectives.

Through the years, NLP has continued to develop some very powerful tools and skills for communication and change in a wide range of professional areas including: Psychotherapy, Marriage and Family Therapy, Counseling, Life Coaching, Education, Health, Business, Creativity, Law, Management, Sales, Leadership and Parenting.  NLP is now in its third decade as a field of study and has evolved considerably since its beginnings in the mid 1970s. Over the years, NLP has literally spread around the world and has touched the lives of millions of people. Since the 1990’s, a new generation of NLP has been developing.

If you’d like me to teach you leading-edge NLP techniques and patterns to help you get into rapport with your unconscious mind, accelerate your personal growth process, and unleash far more of your full potential as a man, woman, and/or athlete than you have ever imagined before, please reach out to me and let me know!! Like so many of my other clients, I trust that you will find that NLP tools and techniques will serve as a powerful catalyst in your pursuit of personal growth and transformation.

Thank you very much for taking your time to read my article/blog on NLP (Neuro-Lingusitic Programming).  I hope that you that you’ve found it informative, thought-provoking, and enlightening!!

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John Boesky, LMFT/MNLP/CHT

(Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist/ Master Neuro-Linguistic Programmer/Certified Hypnotherapist)



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As a Marriage and Family Therapist and Group Facilitator, I’ve already written in a past blog about the ingredients that make for amazing group therapy experiences!!  In this blog, however, I want to take a moment to shed light on the ingredients that can kill the momentum of a thriving group and/or cause a group to wither and die out entirely.  As you read about these poisonous ingredients, I want to invite you to also consider how some of these particular behaviors may be hurting your relationships at home  and at work too.  Groups, after all, are often microcosms for how we  show up in our lives in general.

Like cyanide poisoning, the following ingredients that that can kill groups, friendships, romantic relationships, and chemistry on sports teams include the following:

1)  Gossiping with fellow group members about each other; This can lead to group alliances and coalitions forming in addition to triangulation among group members; These relationship dynamics destroy opportunities for open, honest, and direct communication between group members.

2)  Disregarding the confidentiality agreement that everyone agrees to when they originally join a group; Doing so kills trust, safety, and other group member’s willingness to be vulnerable and honest with themselves and with everyone else.

3)  Shaming other group members.  This includes belittling them, invalidating their feelings, emotionally abusing them, etc.  Shaming can be done with words, a person’s tone, or even his or her facial expressions.  Eye rolling, for example, is a physiological way of passive-aggressively shaming another person.

4)  A narrow-minded intolerance towards another’s beliefs, values, goals, sexual orientation, emotions, etc.

5)  Name calling:  Calling someone else a name that’s intended to belittle them and hurt them threatens group safety and causes the recipient of the name calling to contract and shut down.  In addition, the person doing the name calling instills fear in the other group members, so he or she becomes a threat to the safety of the group container.

5)  Being defensive by talking over people, turning away from people, or digging in your heels and proving you’re take on things is right without considering other perspectives and points of view.

6)  Being contemptuous of others, haughty, smug, aloof, intimidating, arrogant, and self-righteous.

7)  Having a closed mind and a closed heart.  If you’re unwilling to open your mind to new ideas and listen to different perspectives, and if you’re unwilling to open your heart and share your feelings, then you will get very little out of your group therapy experience.

8)  Unleashing judgments on group members and/or offering unsolicited advice and feedback.  The purpose of joining a group is to do your own work;  it is not to rescue and/or fix other group members.

9)  Breaking group agreements such as being on time, honoring my 24 hour cancellation policy, honoring the group’s confidentiality agreement, etc.  When you break group agreements, you threaten group safety.  In addition, you are demonstrating to the other group members that you may not be reliable, trustworthy, etc.

If and/or when a group member is out of integrity and breaks a group agreement, it’s important then to be willing to explore the unconscious shadows ( reasons or motives) that may have compelled you to break the group agreement in the first place.  This exploration can turn into a growth opportunity for everyone in the group.  If you’re unwilling to engage in this self-exploration, however, you’ll likely create a sense of disconnection between you and the other group members.

10)   This group therapy NO-NO goes without saying:  there can be absolutely NO physical abuse among group members.  If you feel a charge or if you feel triggered by another group member, you’ve been given a rich opportunity to grow.  The person who  triggered you has been a gift to you in your life!!

11)  Do not pressure other group members to share more than they are ready to share at any given moment.  Everyone must feel safe and comfortable to grow at their own pace.

12)  Don’t delight in stirring the pot and intentionally triggering people.  Again, be in group to do your own work, and let that be your primary focus.

13)  Whether it be in my Men’s group, co-ed group, or Sports Psychology group, please do not flirt with other group members or attempt to date them.  Men and women may have unresolved issues with members of the opposite sex, and so being approached by another group member may cause a person to feel unsafe.  Even if two group members share a mutual attraction, dating while participating in the same group can create too much drama and upheaval in the group and destabilize the group in the end.  Plus, couples in groups may become less comfortable sharing their true thoughts and feelings because they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings.

Alas, thank you for taking the time to read my blog on Group Therapy NO-NO’s!!

If you’re interested in participating in one of my groups, please don’t hesitate to let me know.  Also, please keep this list of Group Therapy NO-NO’s in mind when you’re in my group or when you’re in any group for that matter!!


John Boesky, LMFT

Marriage and Family Therapist




A Group

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As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve facilitated Men’s groups, Women’s groups, Sports Psychology groups, Therapist/Life Coach Training groups, etc. I’ve found time and time again that there’s a magical self-transcendence that takes place in them. Individuals are no longer islands unto themselves privately working one-on-one with a therapist. Instead, they become part of a larger collective, and they develop a sense of kinship and belonging with their peers that they don’t have with their closest friends. This is because groups, when capably facilitated, become safe, sacred sanctuaries where people can take off their masks, shed their personas, and become truly vulnerable and authentic. When this happens, people develop self-love, self-compassion, and self-acceptance which in turn frees them to experience the grounded joy that comes from connection to themselves and others.

The common misconception that group therapy provides a forum for self-pity, whining, and passivity couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, group therapy is a very dynamic experience. Group members compassionately challenge each other to stretch beyond their comfort zones in order to expand and grow. As for me, I ask my clients to participate in experiential exercises that get them to think and feel and act in new ways that will serve them most in their lives. I also offer my group members teaching pieces on mindfulness, communication, active listening, etc. Most importantly, I make it my top priority to have my clients feel deeply seen and truly understood. Before you know it, everyone is learning how to deeply see, understand, and validate each other. Group members become co-creators, challengers, coaches, confidantes, and great friends.

If you’re looking to grow emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually, a therapy group is definitely one place where you can do this. As a matter of fact, in my experience as a Marriage and Family Therapist, Self-transcendence and self-transformation often take place faster in groups than they do in individual or couple’s therapy alone. In light of this, if you’ve ever wondered about participating in a therapy group, by all means give me a call!!  I look forward to hearing from you 🙂  John Boesky, LMFT


Communicate with Positive IntentionAs a Marriage and Family Therapist, it’s imperative that I model effective active listening and communication skills for my clients.  I also choose to take these active listening and communication skills home with me to my wife and family, so that I not only talk the talk but walk the walk.  I want my intentions, words, and actions to be aligned with one another.  This way, I can proudly declare that I’m a man of integrity.

Family therapists often see couples or families who are accusatory, defensive, hostile, and withdrawing in their communication with their loved ones.  Instead of engaging in these counterproductive communication patterns, I encourage my clients to take deep breaths when they’re feeling triggered, and then to be the following in their communication with others:  Curious, Open, Accepting, Loving, and Listening.  The acronym for this is COALS.  When a client has the presence of mind to follow the COALS approach to communication, they emerge from their communication endeavors with others triumphant. The COALS approach lets the light in.  It creates space for two people to be heard, understood, and validated.

It takes self-discipline, mental rehearsal, and practice to enter into a COALS state of mind when communicating with others.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist and communication expert, I encourage you to give it a try.  You’ll love what happens next!!


John Boesky, LMFT

(Master NLP Practitioner/Certified Hypnotherapist/Dharma Life Coach/& Sports Psychology Consultant)


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As a Marriage and Family Therapist, communication is key to building rapport with clients.  Communication is the key that unlocks the doors behind which people often hide.  Communication is the key that opens their hearts.  There are many facets and dimensions to effective communication.  In this blog post, I will share with you one facet to effective communication that will hopefully be enlightening and thought-provoking for you:  Communication has little to do with the words that we say.  That’s right.  According to tons of data and research, the words we use make up only 7% of our communication.  Another 38% of our communication consists of our tone.  Last but certainly not least, the remaining 55% of our communication stems from our body language, or physiology.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I can teach you the kinds of words to use when speaking with your business partner, friend, lover, etc.  Although words only make up 7% of communication, do no let this statistic mislead you.  Words carry a lot of weight, and they can make or break a conversation.  In addition to words we use, Family Therapists also know that the tone a person uses in his communication with others is instrumental in bringing either harmony or discord between two people.  If a person’s tone is abrasive or indifferent, for example, the communication between two people can go South very fast.  Finally, a family therapist like myself knows that our body language communicates an incredible amount of valuable information to whomever we’re speaking to.  Heck, police interrogators watch a person’s body language far more closely than a suspect’s words.  This is precisely because they know that a person’s body language reveals so much about a person’s true feelings, intentions, motives, etc.

If you’re struggling to communicate effectively to the significant people in your lives, I want to invite you to visit with me or any highly capable Marriage and Family Therapist or NLP Practitioner.  Communication is, after all, an art form, and to become a talented artist takes mentoring, time, and practice.  In the meantime, remember that to be a better communicator, you must be mindful of your words, your tone, and your body language.

John Boesky


Please read more articles on the Self-help Articles page.




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I truly believe that how we choose to communicate something is as important (or more important) than what we choose to communicate. Therefore, it is very important before speaking to be mindful of what our intention is, and what our ultimate goal is, in order to present our thoughts and feelings in such a way that we create a win/win scenario for both ourselves, and the person we’re talking to. By win/win, I mean the person talking wants to make him or herself understood, without imposing his thoughts and feelings onto the listener. His ultimate goal is the following: “UNDERSTAND ME”!!

Before speaking, it is important to ask ourselves the following question: “What am I hoping to achieve by sharing my thoughts and feelings in the first place?” “What is my intention?” Am I intending to shame, ridicule, intimidate, mock, judge, or malign someone else? Am I hoping to debate that person, and ultimately prove that I am right and that he or she is wrong? Am I looking to incite that person, in the hopes of engaging him or her in a war of words? If these are our intentions before entering into a conversation with someone else, chances are we will only say things that we will regret, and make matters worse for ourselves and for our relationship.

I believe that good, effective communicators know to keep their mouths shut when they are feeling tempted to lash out at others with bad intentions, and say things that they will later regret. These self-disciplined individuals wait until they are feeling more calm and rational before choosing to speak their minds. And when they finally do communicate with someone else, they enter into the conversation intending to relate their thoughts and feelings in a way that is intended to be constructive.

The root word in “Relationships” is “Relate”, and this is likely because “relationships” thrive or die based on how we relate to others. And how we choose to relate to others is entirely up to us. For example, if two people disagree, than they can choose to agree to disagree!! They can choose to remember that another person’s subjective reality, or subjective worldview, need not threaten their own. The can also keep in mind that differing world views, perceptions, and/or opinions need not be mutually exclusive. They can coexist in harmony with the other, can’t they?!!

This does not mean that the listener must also agree with what we are saying. The listener need not inherit our point of view. Consequently, the listener need not feel threatened by our opposing point of view either!! Just because I insist the world is black doesn’t negate or wash away your conviction that the world is white!! Therefore, you can welcome my different point of view with an open mind, and open heart.

We must remember that our perceptions, points of view, and beliefs are our very own. No one has the power to take our perceptions away from us. What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours!! I can have my reality, you can have yours, and we can still chat away, openly sharing our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Chances are that I’ll learn something from you, and perhaps you’ll learn something from me.

Additional Communication pointers:

1) Avoid black and white words like “always” and “never.” More often than not there are shades of gray, and when we use words like “always” and “never”, we sound absolutist, and/or rigid in our thinking. And this type of thinking sets us up to feel resentment towards others.

For example, I might be tempted to tell a friend that he is never on time, or always late. Such an accusatory internal dialogue will likely trigger angry feelings inside of me for this person. Yet Chances are I am forgetting the many times this friend has indeed been on time.

By making such an accusation, I am disqualifying the many times my friend has actually been punctual. In turn, he is liable to feel that his efforts in the past to be on time have been all but forgotten. He may subsequently feel disheartened, and may choose to stop coming by to see me all together.

2) Use “I” statements. More often than not people start their communications with others using the word, “You.” For example, a person will say, “you’re making me angry.” Or they will say, “You’re not hearing me.” In these instances, the word, “you”, puts people on their heels and may contribute to their feeling defensive. Moreover, the person speaking is not taking ownership of and/or responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings.

I personally believe that when people share their thoughts and feelings with others by starting with the word, “I,” their chances of having these particular sentiments considered go up considerably. This is because they are taking ownership of their thoughts and feelings, and this in turn gives the listener enough personal space to consider and respond to what is being said.

Rather than become defensive, the listener will likely become more open-minded, and receptive to what is being said. Therefore, it would be in the speaker’s best interest to say, “I’m feeling angry”, in lieu of, “you’re making me angry.” And it would be in the speaker’s best interest to say, “I’m not feeling heard,” in lieu of “you’re not hearing me.”

One common mistake that people often make is when they begin each sentence with the phrase, “I feel that.” For example, a person might say, “I feel that you’re being selfish.” Someone else might say, “I feel that sex shouldn’t be taught in schools.” It is important to remember that an “I feel” statement is meant to precede an expression of feelings.

Statements that begin with, “I feel that you” generally defeat the whole purpose of sharing your feelings in the first place. For example, the statement, “I feel that you’re being selfish” is really just another way of saying, “You’re being selfish.” It’s a “You” statement masqueraded as an “I” statement, and so the addition of the word, “feel,” in your statement serves no purpose whatsoever. Moreover, the statement, “I feel that sex shouldn’t be taught in schools” is really just a poorly disguised way of sharing your opinion and/or judgment about whether or not sex should be taught in our schools. In this instance, I believe that you’ve fallen short of your goal yet again to share your personal thoughts and feelings with someone else.

3) Eliminate the word, “should,” from your vocabulary. There is a saying in pop psychology, “Don’t should on yourself or on others.” The word, “should,” can feel shaming to people. Moreover, it has a self-righteous ring to it as well. For example, a person struggling with shedding pounds doesn’t want to hear from someone else, “you should lose weight.” An A student would rather not hear from his parents, “You should run for president of your class.” In such instances, the well meaning feedback that is couched in the word, “should,” will likely put off the person on the receiving end because nobody wishes to be told what to do in such a self-righteous, presumptuous manner.

In the first instance, the person may be may be thinking, “Who the hell are you to tell me to lose weight?” And in the next instance, the A student may be thinking, “Mom and Dad, don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing.”

There are other ways to make recommendations to people without encroaching on that person’s personal space and violating that person’s psychic boundaries. In the first example, the well meaning friend could say to his overweight friend, “I want to encourage you to lose weight because being heavy could end up causing serious health problems for you in the long run.” In this instance, the friend who is offering this potentially hurtful feedback sounds genuinely interested in his buddy’s health, and well being. By offering up a reason for his concern, he sounds like he is speaking up for a valid reason, and coming from a loving place. He is making it clear that he is not intending to sit in judgment of his friend, and take a shot at his already low self-esteem.

As for the honor student’s parents, they could say to their child, “I think it would be great if you decided to run for president of your class.” This approach would likely sound far more encouraging to their child, and he or she will likely give their idea some careful thought and consideration.

4) When asking other’s questions, do your best to avoid beginning your question with the word, “why”. “Why” questions put people in their heads, and not in their hearts. They also put people on their heels, and on the defensive. Finally, “why” questions get people thinking more pragmatically, and solution-focused, and their focus is no longer on their feelings, and being introspective.

Take, for example, the question, “Why are you late?” Or take the question, “Why are you feeling so sad?” Or take this last question, “Why don’t you like me?” These questions come across as though the person being questioned is undergoing an interrogation!!

One way to ask the very same question in a way that allows the person responding to have more room to reflect is by beginning with the words, “How come” or “What.” The question, “How come you’re so late?” has a more inquisitive tone to it than that of an interrogation. The question, “How come you’re feeling so sad?” has a rounder edge to it and affords the person being asked an opportunity to reflect and explore the roots of their sadness, rather than feel put upon to come up with a heady reason to explain away their sadness.

Additional examples of these kinds of questions that come to mind are, “How come you don’t like me?” and “What about my behavior bothers you?” Again, questions asked in this vain implicitly give the person on the receiving end permission to explore his or her thoughts and feelings without feeling put upon to reflexively deny that such feelings exist in the first place.

In conclusion, do your best to remember when asking questions that the words, “How” and “what,” give people the room they need to process for themselves what they are thinking and feeling. “How” and “what” questions inspire others to open up and share their thoughts and feelings in greater depth with you, and with more honesty.

5) Do your best to avoid saying that someone “makes” you feel or think one way or another. For example, “He makes me feel loved.” Or “He made me angry.” When used this way, the words “makes” and “made” respectively imply that someone other than yourself is responsible for the way you think and feel. In truth, no one can “make” you feel loved, or “make” you feel angry without your consent. When a person uses these words in this way, he or she sounds like a passive witness in his own life, a chance recipient of the good and bad that is up for grabs all around them, every day.

I believe that we are ultimately responsible for how we choose to feel and how we choose to receive information and feedback from others. We generally make choices to open our hearts and take in the love from those around us. Furthermore, we are responsible for choosing to react angrily when provoked by others. For example, a more empowered way to say how you feel around a loved one would be, “I feel loved by him.” Said in this way, it is implied that you are the one who is letting in that person’s love for you. Instead of saying, “He made me angry”, take ownership of your feelings and say, “I felt angry” when he said or did that.” Said this way, it is implicitly understood once more that you are the person responsible for allowing yourself to feel triggered by someone else.

By the way, the world is filled with people who will make every effort to frustrate and anger you. These individuals may find some sadistic pleasure in seeing your face redden with anger. Perhaps baiting you in this way offers them a fleeting sense of power and control over you. Their ultimate goal is to lure you in, and catch you, hook, line, and sinker. Whether or not you choose to feel angry, and bite onto their dangling hook is entirely up to you.

This reminds me of some of the men I worked with when facilitating domestic violence groups some time ago. Many claimed that their girlfriends, wives, and children were the ones responsible for making them mad, and making them act violently towards them. A man might typically say, “She was complaining about everything, and made me feel angry as hell.” “She kept on complaining for over an hour, and made me go over to her and slap her so she’d shut up.”

I believe these guys were consciously and sometimes unconsciously manipulating their choice of words to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, and simultaneously projecting the blame onto their victims. In truth, these men were the ones who chose to feel angry when their wives complained, and they also made the choice to physically assault them as well.

6) Another one: Avoid the phrase, “have to”. For example, I can’t make it tonight, because I have to be at work.” Truth is, you don’t “have to” do anything. What a person chooses to do or not do is really up to them. Do your best not to hide behind phrases like this. Take responsibility for the choices you make in your life. A more empowered way to express your sentiments in this instance would be to say, “I won’t be over tonight, because I’m going to be at work.” This statement implies that you are choosing not to come over tonight, and that you are choosing to be at work instead.

7) Avoid the word, “can’t.” For example, “I can’t make it tonight.” Or “I can’t see the good in going to war in Iraq.” Truth is, unless you’re impaired in some way, you usually can do whatever it is that you want or don’t want to do. How about saying instead, “I won’t be making it over tonight.” This statement implies that you are choosing not to come over. Regarding going to war with Iraq: How about saying instead, “I don’t see the good in us going to war in Iraq.” Or “I think being in Iraq isn’t in our best interests or in the Iraqi’s best interests for that matter.” These latter statements reflect a willingness on your part to take ownership and responsibility for your thoughts and feelings.

8) Avoid the word, “Need.” For example, take the following statements: “I need to be in bed by ten o’clock.” Or “I need you here by early morning.” In truth, we really don’t need much, save food and water. We generally want things. How about saying instead, “I want to be in bed by 10 o’clock.” Or “I want you here by early morning.” Instead of saying, “I need you to understand me”, how about saying instead,” I want you to understand me.” Better yet, say “I want to feel understood by you.”

9) This is Very important!!!! Take the time to improve your “emotional vocabulary!! Become familiar with different shades of emotions. I once heard that Eskimos have over 100 words to describe different kinds of snow. Be like the Eskimos when it comes to incorporating into your daily vocabulary words that describe your whole color spectrum of emotion to a tee. Most people can identify some basic emotions, like mad, sad, glad, fear, and shame. Yet when we expand our emotional vocabulary, it increases our chances of being understood by those around us. Some descriptive emotional words include: “I feel unacknowledged”; “I’m feeling invalidated”; “I feel betrayed”; “I feel discouraged”; “I feel disheartened”; “I feel exasperated”; “I feel overwhelmed”; “I feel disrespected”; “I feel humiliated”; “I feel forgotten”; “I feel invisible”; and ” I feel unimportant.”

There are countless words that describe a wide range of human emotion and feeling, and each and every word has the potential to capture most accurately the subtle nuances that distinguish one feeling from another. Therefore, I believe it is in your best interest to find words that most accurately reflect to others the essence of what you are feeling in your heart.

10) Avoid the word, “But”. For example, I want you to come over this afternoon at 4:00 PM, but I have a dentist appointment at that time. Incorporate the word, “and” into your everyday parlance instead. This word gives all thoughts and feelings equal importance. I think a more effective way to say the aforementioned would be, “I want you to come over this afternoon, and I am scheduled to go to the dentist during that time.”

The word “but” creates an either/or situation, and negates everything the person has said prior to its usage. I think it’s important to understand that two opposing thoughts or feelings do not have to cancel each other out. For example, I can say, “I know that you are self-reliant and resilient, and I worry about you never the less.”

11) Avoid the word, “Try”. For example, if someone asks you to come over and feed his pet canary while he is away on vacation, you’re not likely to say, “I’ll try.” More often than not, you’ll know in your heart beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not you plan on following through on something. The word, “try”, is an evasive, non-committal word that gives a person wiggle room to get out of something.

12) MY SENSE IS: This phrase is an incredibly effective one, and I encourage you to incorporate it into your everyday conversation with others ASAP. When you sense someone is feeling one way or another, it will serve you well to begin by using this phrase. For example, if someone is angry with you and chooses to stonewall and keep these feelings to himself, you can choose to be more proactive and say, “My sense is you’re feeling really angry with me.”

If you’ve invited someone over and that person seems hesitant around accepting your invitation, you can share your intuitive sense of where he or she is at, and say, “My sense is you would really rather not come over tonight.” If a friend is unusually quiet after breaking up with his girlfriend, you can break the silence by saying, “my sense is you’re really hurting right now.”

When you begin with the phrase, “My sense is,” you’re not pretending to know what someone else is feeling, thinking, and/or experiencing. In turn, you are not being presumptuous, but rather you’re acknowledging that another person lives in his or her own world, and that you can never know for sure what that world looks like at any given time. Instead you are sharing with that person your intuition, which in turn shows care and concern on your part while simultaneously honoring his or her personal space.

You are effectively giving the other person enough emotional space to receive your sense of him or her in a non-threatening way. This affords the person an opportunity to agree with you, or disagree with you. This non-threatening, non-intrusive approach also clears enough space for the recipient of your feedback to reflect for a moment and then clarify for you what he or she is really thinking, and feeling. Again, offering your sense of someone else in this gentle way inspires him or her to reflect more, and share their thoughts and feelings openly with you. Finally, this phrase takes people out of their heads, and puts them into their hearts.

13) Sometimes it is helpful to share with someone else what your perception and/or experience is of his or her behavior. Communicating your subjective experience of someone else can be tricky, however, as you may come across as being judgmental, disapproving, and hypercritical. Never the less, by emphasizing and owning that you are merely sharing your own subjective point of view, you are hopefully making it abundantly clear that you are aware that your perception isn’t based in fact.

For example, let’s say I sit down and have dinner with my friend, Paul, and he appears angry, all the while talking on and on about his life without bothering to listen to what I have to say, and without bothering to ask me about my life, and/or how I am doing. In this instance, I might say to Paul: “My sense is you’re feeling really angry right now, and I understand you have a lot on your mind. My heart goes out to you, and I also want to let you know that I’m feeling more or less invisible and all but forgotten here with you.” If Paul chooses to disregard my feelings, and becomes defensive and agitated instead, I might say: “Paul, it is my experience that you are being really defensive right now, and agitated.”

In this instance, I’m making an effort to share with Paul how I am experiencing him, and his general disposition. It is important to remember, though, that sharing your experience of someone else is often tricky, as you may unintentionally sound as though you are sitting in judgment of him or her. So tread carefully, and remember to underscore that you are merely sharing your own subjective experience of him or her, and that you are aware that your perception is yours, and yours alone.

14) Do your best to avoid labeling people. This includes name calling, and/or categorizing those around you. Name calling and labeling others serves little constructive purpose, and more often than not names and labels are merely intended to hit below the belt, and hurt. Moreover, lashing out at others and calling them names has an insidious way of objectifying that person, and/or dehumanizing them. Human beings are very complex, multifaceted, and dynamic. Calling someone names has a way of reducing someone into one thing or another, and doesn’t assess or portray that person fairly or accurately at all.

If I lash out at someone at say, “You’re a bitch”, or “You’re a jerk”, or “You’re a selfish, lying bastard,” I’ve done little to let that person know how I’m feeling, and how I would like them to treat me differently. In other words, my intention from the get-go had little to do with making myself understood. It had everything to do with trying to hurt that person, and making him or her feel small.

When we feel hurt by someone else, we are often tempted to hurt back. That’s human nature. Yet being vindictive and striking back generally makes things worse. In the moment, it may feel good to hit back and cut someone else down. The adrenaline flows, the venom flies, and the heart may feel momentarily vindicated.

In the long run, though, we’ve made matters worse with our loved one, our friend, or even our adversary. That person no longer trusts us, or feels safe around us. And it’s often very difficult to win back trust and safety after they’ve been broken and lost, respectively. Apologies rarely piece back together trust that has been broken. The damage is usually done, and while the cuts may heal over time, the emotional scars never fully go away.

Imagine, if you will, a piece of wood, a hammer, and some nails. Every label hammered into someone, or at someone, gets lodged into the wood that makes up their psychic foundation, their psychic architecture if you will. Apologizing is one’s way of extracting the nail from that piece of wood. However, we all know that what is left is a splintered hole, with splintered wood. The hole remains, even though the nail has been removed. And I believe that this is the sort of hole that remains in the heart of those whom we name call, label, and verbally abuse.

Rather than say, “You’re being a bitch,” be constructive instead and tell that person, “When you do such and such, I feel angry, or disregarded, or discounted, or invalidated, or exploited, or hurt, or sad, or invisible, etc.” Then tell that person how you would like them to treat you instead. For example, “I’d appreciate it when I talk to you that you look at me, and appear interested in what I am saying. When you turn away and get distracted with other things, like the television, I feel unimportant, insignificant, and uncared for. Please make an effort to pay attention to me when I am talking, because I want to feel as though you care about what I have to say.”

Remember, it’s all about intention, folks!! Are you intending to hurt someone, and strike back at them, or are you endeavoring to make yourself understood and/or teach someone else how to treat you in a way that is more to your liking.

15) Anger: Be as conscientious as you can to communicate your anger with others responsibly. Remember to use “I” statements, thereby taking ownership for your angry feelings. Verbally abusing someone else, or labeling them, or aiming to be destructive and hurtful, will only serve to put that person on his or her heals. The listener will be in defense mode, and he or she will be far more concerned with self-preservation than with listening to what you are saying, or screaming, for that matter.

In lieu of going into defense mode, some people will retaliate, and angrily hit you right back. The tension between the two of you has escalated, compounding the original problem. The two parties will likely emerge from the battle suffering from more losses than gains. They will have been participating in a lose/lose type of scenario. Feelings will have been hurt, trust broken, and the fabric of their relationship will have been irreparably torn apart.

I encourage clients to remember that their anger is a secondary emotion, masking more primary emotions like fear, hurt, and frustration. When you are feeling angry, take a time-out so that you can experience your anger, and find a safe place to vent your anger so that you are leaving no collateral damage behind. I also recommend that you take some time to introspect and discern what primary emotions have triggered the rise of your anger in the first place.

The purpose of engaging in such introspection is so that you can come from a more vulnerable, authentic place when you eventually make an effort to communicate your thoughts and feelings with whomever it is that upset you. People are far more likely to listen to you, and hear what you are saying, when you appear calm and rational, and when you are trying to be constructive, in hopes of creating a win/win scenario.

16) I have recently learned of the following anachronism: D.E.E.S.C.P. The D stands for Describe, the E stands for Emotion, the next E stands for Empathy, the S stands for Specify, the C stands for Consequences, and the P stands for Positive Consequences. This anachronism offers you an easy format to follow when communicating your thoughts and feelings with others.

Take the following situation for example: I asked my friend, Maggie, to pick me up at my house at 4:00 in the afternoon to take me to the airport. If Maggie fails to show up on time, I might use the above script to guide me as I communicate my thoughts and feelings to her. I might say:

“When you don’t come over when you say that you’re going to come over (Describe), I feel angry and disappointed (Emotion). I understand that you have a lot on your mind, and that you’re been feeling overwhelmed of late (Empathy). In the future, I would like you to follow through with me, and when you make a commitment to doing something on my behalf, I want you to follow through and do it (Specify the behavioral change you’re wanting instead). If you don’t honor your commitments with me in the future, than I will choose to rely on you less and less (Consequences). If you do decide to make a greater effort to follow through on your commitments to me, and do what you say you’re going to do, than I will feel closer to you, and more trusting that I can count on you. In turn, I’ll want to spend more time with you, as I will value your presence in my life that much more (Positive Consequence).”

17) When giving someone instruction and/or counsel on what they can do to change a certain behavior, focus on the positive change they can make rather than harp on their negative behavior. For example, take a tennis coach who notices that his young protege is using too much wrist on his volleys:

The coach could dwell on this if he so desires, and may be tell his pupil, “Don’t use your wrist.” “Stop collapsing your hand when you make contact with the ball.” “Don’t squeeze your grip so tight.” In this example, the tennis coach has emphasized for his pupil what not to do. Unfortunately for the youngster, his coach has yet to teach him what he can do to turn his volley into a weapon. A more effective coach might tell this youngster, “Keep your wrist firm.” “Extend your forearm through the ball.” “Move your body forward and keep your knees bent as you make contact with the ball.”

In my work with couples, I often hear one person tell the other what they’re doing that they find bothersome and/or annoying. A woman might tell her husband, “when I’m crying, don’t just sit there and say nothing.” “And don’t just walk away from me either.” I think it would be in the woman’s best interest to tell her husband what she would like him to do when she is crying. For example, she could say, “When I’m crying, please hold me, and reassure me that everything is going to be OK.”

18) Do your best to eliminate disempowering words from your everyday vocabulary. Such words include, “kind of”, “sort of”, and “maybe”. People often hide behind these words for one reason or another. For example, a man might tell his wife, “I sort of feel angry with you.” A guy might tell his date, “I kind of liked that movie.” A woman might suggest to her friend, “I’m thinking maybe we should go out have some Chinese food for dinner?” These individuals clearly sound non-committal in their thoughts and feelings. They sound like they’re afraid to say unwaveringly and/or unequivocally what they’re thinking and feeling. I think they would sound more empowered and forthright if they said respectively, “I’m angry with you”, “I liked that movie”, and “I think it’d be nice if we went out and had some Chinese food for dinner”.

In conclusion (regarding communication skills and techniques) I want to remind you (and me, for that matter), that words carry vibrations which reflect out thoughts and emotions. We hear the words we speak, as do others. And we shape our reality (positive and negative) by not only our thoughts and actions, but by our words too.

Therefore, it is of great importance that we choose or words wisely with others, and pay attention to our tone of voice, and body language.

If we choose our words well, and couch them gently enough, then whomever we’re talking to will hear the message that we’re trying to convey. Moreover, they will likely give our thoughts and feelings far more consideration than they would have had they been feeling attacked, condescended to, etc.

If our tone of voice is soft, and slow (not pressured, abrasive and/or aggressive) than the person listening to us will likely receive what we are saying with an open heart. They will not check out, or dissociate, or become intimidated and/or defensive.

If our body language appears open, gentle, and non-threatening, then the listener will lean in and listen to what we are saying. He or she will not feel a need to pull away, or fold their arms across their chest as if to protect themselves from our aggressive stance and/or posture.

I strongly believe that if we, as communicators, have made every effort to choose our words carefully, and use our tone of voice and body language to our advantage, than we will have raised the likelihood that we’re going to be heard ten fold. In turn we’re very likely going to feel heard, validated, and understood by whomever it is that is listening to us. Regardless of the outcome, I believe we would have every right to feel very proud of our efforts to communicate our thoughts and feelings responsibly. We would have every reason to feel as though we’ve conducted ourselves with a lot of integrity, for we will have gone to great lengths to live our lives consciously, and speak our speak our minds thoughtfully and conscientiously.

Whether or not our listener actually hears what we’re saying is another matter entirely. Whether or not he or she chooses to respond back to us with equal care and consideration is his or her prerogative, and is completely out of our control. All we can do is have the best of intentions when we share our thoughts and feelings with others. And if we manage to come from this clean space, then we can rest assured that we’ve been in integrity with ourselves.

We would then have every reason to go to bed at night feeling at peace with ourselves. We can feel proud of the efforts we’ve made to communicate with others fairly, and constructively. We also feel proud of our choice to share our thoughts and feelings with others in an assertive manner, without being passive, or aggressive. We will have every reason to hold our heads high, and like who we see in the mirror, for we will have done our part to create a win/win situation in our communications with others.

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active listening skillsActive Listening is a very successful set of listening skills and techniques which enable the listener to accurately construe what the speaker is intending to say. In turn, the speaker feels heard, and understood. Soon the communication between the speaker and listener flows smoothly, free of messy misunderstandings. Consequently, the people in communication stand a far greater chance at solving problems, resolving conflicts, fostering deeper intimacy, and creating a more loving, harmonious relationship.

Active Listening skills and techniques include the following: Using your body language effectively; Incorporating Reflective Listening and Paraphrasing techniques into every day conversation; asking “Clarifying Questions” to make sure he or she accurately hears what the speaker is trying to communicate; and making astute “Content to Process shifts, “which enables the listener to hear the many layers of thoughts and feelings that lie beneath the surface of what is being said out loud.

How we hold our bodies when communicating with others can tellingly reveal how we feel about what he or she is saying. For example, it is pretty evident that when someone begins rolling their eyes while someone is saying something to him, he is likely feeling frustrated, or bored. Yawning incessantly can certainly communicate boredom as well. Closing one’s eyes can reflect apathy or disinterest, and so can slouching one’s shoulders and drooping one’s head towards the floor. Moving your hands restlessly can indicate that you’re distracted, and not paying much attention to what is being said. Clenching your jaw and puffing out your chest can reveal that you are feeling angry with the speaker, or even defensive. Breathing shallowly can indicate that you may be feeling anxious, and avoiding eye contact may show that you feel intimidated. As you can imagine, the list goes on and on when it comes to the many ways our bodies don’t serve us in our communications with others.

In order to use your body effectively when listening to someone, do your best to breathe deeply, and offer the person good eye contact. Meaning, soften your eyes, so they appear receptive to what the person is saying, and non-threatening. Do your best to make sure that your body appears relaxed, so that you appear open to what the person is saying to you. Be still if you can, so that you don’t appear distracted or preoccupied by other things going on around you. Finally, nod your head from time to time, so that the person talking knows that you are following what he or she is saying. There are, of course, many other non-verbal ways to communicate to the person speaking that you are open and receptive to what is being said. When you make a conscious effort to use your body language in these ways, you will likely find that your verbal exchanges with others become more fluid, more respectful, and more productive as well.

“Reflective Listening” is a technique that encourages the listener to repeat back to the speaker exactly what he or she has said, in their own words. For example, take the following exchange: A man appears exasperated because he believes his girlfriend rarely hears what he is saying. So he tells her, “I’m sick and tired of your not listening to me, and not caring enough to understand my feelings!! I want our kids to go to Church three times a week!! Going once a week won’t do!!”

Clearly this man rarely feels that his girlfriend gets the gist of what he is saying. But one way for his wife to diffuse his anger and frustration would be to reflect back to him precisely what he has said. Using the reflective listening technique, she would say: “I hear you saying that you are sick and tired of me not listening to you. Moreover, you think that I don’t care enough to understand your feelings. You would like our children to go to Church three times a week, and that going once a week won’t do.

Often time’s two very intelligent people don’t accurately hear what one another is saying. The listener may simply hear what he wants to hear, and disregard the rest. Or he may make an inaccurate interpretation of what has just been said. Or intense feelings that are aroused in our interactions with others make it difficult for us to hear much of anything at all!! One way to lower the margin for error and significantly increase the likelihood that a speaker is heard involves mirroring back precisely what he or she has said, word for word.

“Paraphrasing” is an active listening technique that challenges the listener to accurately capture and paraphrase back the essence of what has been communicated to him or her. In this instance, he must do so in his own words. Doing so demonstrates that he truly gets the over all gist of what has been said. In turn, the person sharing his thoughts and feelings feels heard, and sufficiently understood.

Take the aforementioned example with regards to the man, his wife, and their kids: Remember, the man has said the following: “I’m sick and tired of your not listening to me, and not caring enough to understand my feelings!! I want our kids to go to Church three times a week!! Going once a week won’t do!!”

In this instance, the wife might paraphrase back to him the following: “Honey, you’re angry with me because you don’t think that I care enough to listen to you, and that I don’t even bother to understand your feelings. An example of this would be when it comes to our children, and how often they attend church. I get that you feel adamantly about our children attending church three times a week, and that you don’t believe that going to church once a week is nearly enough.”

In this instance, the girlfriend has communicated to he boyfriend what she has heard him say, but in her own words. In her communication to him, she uses her intuition and insight as well, and shares with him her own sense of what he is likely feeling. For example, she speculates that he is feeling angry with her. When she reads between the lines and names what he is feeling, his anger will likely dissipate, and his tone of voice will likely soften, for he will feel accurately seen and heard by her. When she lets him know that she understands that he feels adamantly about this issue, he will once again feel as though she gets how important this matter is to him.

“Clarifying Questions” are asked in order to gain a deeper and more accurate understanding for what has been said. Such questions lessen the chances that a listener will walk away from a conversation feeling unsure of what the speaker has said. Therapists, for example, often ask clarifying questions, for they do not want to make assumptions about what their client is thinking and/or feeling. Instead they want to accurately distill what the client is saying, and they want to learn more about their clients’ thoughts and feelings as well.

Take, for example, the following exchange. Jack and Jill are boyfriend and girlfriend, and they are taking a walk along the ocean on a cold, wintry day. Jack owns a beautiful cashmere sweater, and he happens to be wearing it. Noticing that Jill appears cold, he offers her his sweater. As he hands it to her, he says,” Just remember to give it back to me when you’re done using it.”

Suddenly Jill appears sour, and glum, and begins to tear up. She wraps the sweater up in her hand, and defiantly tries to give it back to Jack. In turn, Jack feels confused, and hurt. He doesn’t understand what in the world has upset Jill. In his mind, all he is guilty of is lovingly and selflessly offering his girlfriend his cashmere sweater, as she appeared cold to him.

In his confusion, Jack could choose to respond to her strange reaction with anger: He could say, “What is wrong with you!! You’re such a brat!! Why do you act like such a baby for no reason? I try to be nice to you, and what do I get in return? I get frowns, and scowls, and bad looks….You’re nuts!!”

While Jack could go on a verbal tirade of his own, and go on to condemn her actions, and shame her, he probably knows that such a diatribe will get them nowhere. He’ll feel angry, and she’ll feel shamed, and hurt, and perhaps angry as well. The two will quickly reach an impasse, and neither will speak to each other. A silent treatment will likely ensue, the romantic walk will abruptly end, and their relationship will suddenly be on the rocks. Soon they will break up, and neither will know what in the world happened on their walk along the ocean. Jack will conclude that Jill is crazy, and Jill will conclude that Jack is an insensitive jerk.

Perhaps Jack and Jill could have salvaged their relationship had Jack asked Jill a clarifying question? What if he asked Jill, “Jill, what’s wrong? You look mad at me, and hurt? I’m at a loss. What have I done to upset you? Help me to understand how my behavior has affected you, so that I can be more sensitive to your feelings from here on out? What about my lending you my sweater upset you? I can assure you that my intentions were good. What’s going on?”

To Jack’s surprise, Jill might say, “I was hurt when you asked me to remember to give it back to you. I thought you were questioning my integrity, insinuating that I’m the kind of person that would try to steal it from you. I felt like you didn’t trust me to give it back to you, like you were questioning my integrity. I’m not a thief, you know. You don’t need to remind me to give things back to you. Besides, in my family, what’s somebody’s is everybody’s. Everyone shares. There are no boundaries between people. ”

Alas!! Jill has given Jack some insight into how she experienced him when he reminded her to return his sweater back to him at some point. Moreover, she revealed to him some of her beliefs around giving, and how her family had shaped some of those beliefs. She also let him know how insecure she can be, and how she is liable to perceive criticism from others, and negative evaluations, even when such evaluations are not present. By asking Jill a clarifying question, Jack in turn learned a lot about his girlfriend, and how she processes things.

Armed with this new awareness of Jill, Jack would then able to understand her ill-tempered reaction, and not take it so personally. And by not taking it so personally, he would likely feel less angry with her. He might likely feel some compassion for her instead. He would have an opportunity to reassure her that he doesn’t question her integrity at all. Moreover, he could tell her that he cares for her deeply, and can now appreciate better how exquisitely sensitive she can be at times.

When a listener successfully makes a “Content to Process shift, he has been able to hear the hidden message that lies beneath the surface of what has been said out loud. Often, when two or more people communicate, the words that are spoken, or the content, don’t tell the whole story. In fact, what has been said can be misleading, and can get the listener to lose sight of what the speaker is really meaning to say. Take, for example, a woman who scoffs at her boyfriend, and says, “You’ve become such a workaholic. All you care about is your work, and making money.”

If the boyfriend in this instance listens only to what is being said (the content), than he will likely become defensive and angry. He might offer a rebuttal and say, “I do not work all of the time. And I am not only interested in making money.” In this moment, he may feel attacked, and misunderstood. However, I ask you, what do you think the woman is really trying to say? What process is going on here?

Active listeners would know better. They would be able to see through her anger and frustration, and understand that more than likely she is trying to say, “I wish you wouldn’t work so much. I miss you. I want to spend more time together with you. I want to feel like I’m still a priority in your life, and that you still love me, and want to be with me.”

If the gentleman in this instance had the presence of mind to address her sadness, her insecurity, her self-doubts, and her anxiety, she in turn might feel attended to, heard, and cared for. The conflict between these two would resolve itself, and they would likely feel closer than they did before their altercation.

In conclusion, “Active Listening” skills play a significant role in helping people solve problems, resolve conflicts, foster deeper intimacy, and create more loving, harmonious relationships. These skills also help people to have more empathy for whomever is speaking, for they are better able to get into the other person’s shoes, and listen to their perspective on things, and understand how reasonable it might be for him or her to feel and/pr think the way they do. Active listening skills also enable a listener to show that while they may not agree with the other person, they value his or her own unique point of view. People feel seen and heard, understood, and cared for. Needless tensions fall by the way side, and a sense of harmony and mutual respect between people take their place.