© 2003 Dick
is Very Important for Couple Success
is extremely important. Building that relationship between the two of you needs
to be very important.
Dialogue is the form of communication
that can help people get to know and appreciate one another. Dialogue is not for
problem-solving or arguing and criticism. It is for understanding people.
is merely asking questions of each other out of curiosity in order to better
know and understand each other.
By using dialogue to know
and appreciate one another more, the two of you can build a better foundation
for your relationship. That firmer foundation will come when you both understand
one another, accept one another, find each other a bit more fascinating, and stop
trying to change the other into a copy of yourself.
of things are important to the building of a great relationship. One is just spending
fun times together. The other is understanding and appreciating one another. Dialogue
adds fun to the process of getting to know and appreciate one another better.
There is probably no finer communication skill than dialogue.
Therefore, if you and your partner learn to do it, you will become more able than
most to build a very warm, loving relationship. Also, dialogue is critical to
understanding one another and, later, resolving conflicts.
ASKING QUESTIONS OF EACH OTHER
OUT OF CURIOSITY
IN ORDER TO
BETTER KNOW AND UNDERSTAND
usually means just asking the questions, "Why?" and "What do you mean?" over and
over again. When you ask a person a "why" question, it usually opens up a little
bit of new information about him or her. Another "why" question yields a little
more fascinating information. When a "why" question seems hard to think of, then
any simple, friendly, non-judgmental question motivated by curiosity is fine.
Many of us had parents who talked to one another only when
doing business or giving orders. So, that's all we learned about marriage. We
did not learn to just spend time talking in safe conversations, much less those
kinds of conversations that help people understand one another.
you see what dialogue is all about? It is learning about other people so that
you can understand them and relate to them sensitively. And, when needed, you
can be more helpful and understanding.
Helps People Understand One Another
feel listened to and understood, then they are willing to listen to how others
see things. This approach will often lead to change. In fact, it is much more
effective than arguing or even discussion. Because dialogue is without manipulation,
especially manipulation by force, people can adopt another person's way of viewing
things or doing things and consider that it was their own choice. People don't
like to let people tell them what to think or feel.
helps people find out what the other person really thinks and feels. It helps
you find out what your partner really thinks and feels. It helps your partner
find out what you really think and feel. Understanding and accepting your partner
deeper and deeper through dialogue knowing how he or she thinks and feels,
as well as what he or she really means by what is said, creates better and better
Must Be Safe Communication
be safe conversation. Times together must be fun. They must also be safe. Whatever
is said and done when you are together must not make your partner feel bad, disappointed,
threatened, stupid or wrong. This will shut down talking. If that happens, you
might stay together, but the relationship will be strained and much less happy.
A negative experience is very destructive. It breeds low self-esteem, destroys
confidence, encourages performance anxiety that lowers job performance, causes
distrust, results in avoidance of doing things together, and a bunch of other
bad things. Don't let your relationship be unsafe and no fun.
it is designed just to find out information, dialogue is very valuable in helping
each of you understand and appreciate one another. Dialogue is just asking simple
questions. To find out information. Not to correct. Not to change the other person.
Just good-natured, open-ended questions that have no "right answers".
because talking in the past might have been dangerous or may not have been comfortable,
dialogue must be safe conversation. And, it can be safe because it is designed
just to find out information so you can work on increased understanding and appreciation.
Dialogue is just asking simple questions out of curiosity and should not be confrontational.
When people share their thoughts and ideas, they take a risk.
When another person accepts his or her thoughts and ideas by listening and not
arguing, trust begins to build. "Accepting" what another person thinks does not
mean that you agree, only that you accept that he or she has the right to think
his or her own way.
Telling another person your feelings is
more intimate and personal than relating thoughts and ideas. Therefore, sharing
feelings is very risky. Trust has to be established trust that the other person
will not reject those feelings by saying that they are silly or unfounded or untrue.
People's feelings are the most personal part of them, and are often deeply rooted
in their values and past experiences.
And, people hate to
be criticized or argued with about things they say about themselves, or, for that
matter, about almost anything that they say. But especially when people are telling
their own feelings or their own thoughts, they do not want to be corrected or
criticized. In conversations, your partner wants to express his or her memories
as he or she remembers them, not as you might remember them. He or she wants to
tell you his or her answers and have you not criticize those answers.
example, in answering the question, "For what store would you prefer to have a
$5,000 gift certificate?", if she mentions a store you don't approve of, keep
it to yourself. Instead, ask why she would prefer that store. Find out what she
is thinking. (Hey, it isn't going to happen anyway. People are not just wandering
around giving $5,000 gift certificates!) Or, maybe you think she did not think
of a store you thought she would like the gift certificate to be good for. Don't
argue. Just ask, "Would you like that store more than Whatever Store?" She may
change her mind, or there may just be a reason she would prefer the store she
Here's another example. In answering the
related question, "What gift would you get me if you had $2,000 to spend?", if
he mentions something you would really not like, don't react negatively. Don't
say something like, "What makes you think I would like THAT?!" Instead, say something
like, "What makes you think I would like that?" (Note that I used the exact same
words. The second way is not critical.) Follow this up with, "I really would not
like that, but it is interesting that you thought I would like it. That's why
we are using dialogue so that we can get to know one another better.
is Different than Discussion
There is quite
a difference between dialogue and discussion. Ideally, dialogue is free of conflict
and disagreement. Discussion allows for disagreement. Of course, during dialogue
there is disagreement, but it is considered difference rather than disagreement.
This is to keep the dialogue safe. It is a chance for partners to give honest
answers and not have to worry about disagreement. Instead, it is called difference.
Different ways to think about something. Different ways to perceive something.
In contrast, discussion focuses on the disagreement in order to arrive at agreement.
Dialogue will occasionally expose some differences that have
to be dealt with to establish agreement. But, discuss differences at another time,
a considerable period after the safer dialogue. Your partner may have changed
his or her mind by that time. In any case, you do not want dialogue to be dangerous.
Therefore, it is not the time or place to resolve differences through discussion,
which may become confrontational and full of conflict. Usually, there are days,
weeks and months before solid agreement has to be achieved.
dialogue should get the first privilege of resolving the difference. This way
a solution can be found without the risk of conflict. Since most disagreements
are just saying the same thing in a different way, asking a number of "why questions"
will often reveal agreement rather than what was first identified as disagreement.
In other cases, all of these "why questions" will help you understand the difference
and open doors to cooperative compromise or another non-conflict resolution.
Gets People Thinking About Things
often gets others to think a thing through a little further than they have before.
Therefore, dialogue not only lets you understand a person better, it also helps
others understand themselves better.
Dialogue brings up questions
people have not thought about before. This helps them to grow and change. For
example, when your partner says that it is not necessary to drive slower for your
comfort, dialogue questions can get him or her to think this through, even though
he or she would rather not. Questions like the following, asked in a dialogue
sort of way (innocent, curious, not judgmental) will do far more than giving that
lecture that you have repeated so many times. "Why do you drive so fast?" "Why
is it important to you?" "Why is my fear not a good enough reason to slow down?"
"Do you think my requests are unreasonable?" "Why?"
like this can help you understand one another as well as get your point across
in a safer way. Such talking teaches.
Example of Dialogue
Dialogue is merely asking
questions of each other out of curiosity in order to better know the other person.
Here's an example.
Many years ago, my wife Jean and I were
teaching about 150 couples at a church marriage orkshop how to dialogue. I asked
Jean what she likes best about the forest. I had never talked with her about that
"Sitting by a stream" was her answer.
was asking if she likes the trees, the animals, or something, and it did not seem
to me that Jean answered my question. But, she answered the question as she understood
it. And, I used my brain. I went with what she said, not what I expected her to
say. Correcting her would have made her feel talking with me is dangerous. And,
her answer was correct just not what I was expecting. So, I asked her, "Why
is sitting by a stream what you like best?"
"I like to listen to the water flowing."
That was an answer
I could understand. I like the sound of a stream also. However, it wasn't important
that I could relate to her answer. In fact, because I also enjoyed the sound of
a stream, I was in danger of thinking she would like listening to it for the same
reason I did. That would have led me to say something like, "I know what you mean."
"I know what you mean" is the world-famous dialogue-breaker
of all time. And, it is definitely the wrong thing to say or even to think!
It is wrong for two BIG reasons. First, it shuts the dialogue off because it communicates
that there is nothing more to be understood. (There is always more to understand.)
Second, it communicates that you are not all that interested in the other person
in listening any more.
Jean answered that she liked to listen to the water flowing, I asked the Basic
Dialogue Question of All Time "Why?"
That is when she said
something that revealed a deeper truth about her that I did not know.
answered, "Listening to the water flowing over the rocks takes my mind off of
the things I worry about."
I was now at that deeper level
where I could really learn what life is like for Jean. So, I did not tell her
she shouldn't worry. That would not have been of much help. I had just learned
that she does worry. A lot of the time! I did not know that. Jean was starting
to open up. My simple, non-judgmental dialogue questions were convincing her that
it was safe to open up. Deeper trust between us was developing. If I kept asking
innocent questions, questions without any hidden motive other than trying to understand
her, I would be of more help to her than ever before.
"Why?" and "What do you mean?" are the basic questions, "How?" and "What?" questions
are great secondary questions if "Why?" doesn't seem to apply. The key is to keep
finding out interesting things about the other person.
the point that Jean said that the sound of the river drowned out her worries,
I could have gone deeper, but we were in front of a lot of people. Later, I asked
her, "Why do you have all those worries going through your head." She replied,
"I don't know. I just do." That was a signal that our dialogue on that subject
was over. She now needed time to think. It would have been a good time to go on
to another item to talk about or to ask her if she has a favorite river to sit
by. Sometime in the near future I would open up the dialogue again and ask, "Have
you figured out yet why you have all those worries going through your head?"
Avoids Controlling the Other Person
us had parents who talked to us only when giving orders or correcting us. So,
we learned to give orders and criticize, but not how to just spend time in safe
conversations, much less those kinds of conversations that help us understand
one another. Too many of us cannot remember conversations with our parents that
were safe or that were not telling us what to do or telling us what we did wrong.
Our parents did not help us to think because they never asked us any questions.
Our parents did not help us feel smart because they never asked our opinions on
anything when we were children. Our parents did not give us a feeling that it
was safe to be ourselves, because for their approval we had to be just like them.
You don't want to be that kind of person! Dialogue will help
you be the kind of person who asks, who listens, who affirms, who helps your partner,
and who builds his or her self-esteem.
Your partner wants
to express her or his memories as remembered, not as you might remember them.
She or he wants to tell favorite things and have you understand why those things
are favorites. She or he doesn't want you to say anything or communicate by body
language that there is anything wrong with what she or he considers her or his
favorite or why it is the favorite. After all, it is HER or HIS favorite and
she or he will accept your different favorite. She or he wants to express wishes
and dreams as they exist right now, while the two of you are talking. If it is
different than something said previously, she or he won't be upset if you ask
if a change has occurred or if that previous wish was forgotten. But, she or he
sure doesn't want to hear criticism about dialogue contributions.
Helps You Analyze Problems
How can you discuss,
evaluate, disagree and then come to agreement if you first do not really know
what your partner thinks, feels, and means by what he or she says?
example, you might want to complain about the way your partner is quick to raise
his or her voice to get his or her own way. But, dialogue will help you find out
more before you have that discussion. Dialogue would, in this case, be asking
why he or she raises the voice. He or she might say that he or she is never seriously
considered until the voice is raised. You could take a week or two to observe
and see if this is the case. Perhaps you will see that his or her quiet requests
or arguments are dismissed, forcing the volume to be turned up. Then, the changing
that needs to be done is yours.
On the other hand, he or she
might say that the voice is raised to better get the point across. Then you need
to tell how best to present a request or opinion to you so that you will hear
it and not become defensive.
Or, think about how easy it would
be for any of us to say, "I wish you wouldn't do that!" The typical responses
are to stop doing whatever it was or to argue.
If you just
stop doing something when someone says she or he doesn't like something, without
dialogue, without simple questions, then you don't see the principle behind the
request. True, you will not continue to bother your partner with that particular
behavior. But, probably, you will continue a lot of other behaviors she or he
considers similar. You will get many more, "I wish you would NOT do that!" statements.
However, if you asked, "Why?" in a non-threatening way, showing
that you only wish to understand, you might find that there is a principle to
guide your future behavior with the love of your life. Let's say what you did
was drop a book loudly on the table. Nothing was hurt and there was no obvious
harm in tossing the book on the table. Out of love and respect for your partner,
you might never again throw a book on a table or something hard. A couch maybe,
but not a firm surface. Maybe that would be because you assumed that the complaint
had to do with damaging the book.
And then, on one of your
better days, you decide to ask, "Why?" when told, "I wish you would not do that!".
And you find out that the issue is the loud, abrupt, unexpected noise that it
is being startled that your partner does not like. Now, it will be more than books
that you do not slam down. And, your life will be a little more peaceful. You'll
hear, "I wish you would not do that!" a whole lot less!
questions can tell you much more about any problem you are facing.
Helps Solve Problems
Asking questions before
you draw your conclusions can help you do a better job of addressing problems.
Asking questions allows you to be more accurate about what is going on. You can
spend a whole lot less time trying to correct a situation if you are not just
guessing about what the problem is.
Think about how easy it
would be for any of us to say, "Don't talk to me that way!" If your partner did
not think the disrespectful thoughts you assumed, she or he will be totally confused.
But, a simple question like, "Did you mean to be telling me what to do?" will
help clarify the situation. You might get a convincing "No" answer. Then, you
would realize that you did not interpret her or his comment correctly. You can
then ask for an explanation or elaboration of what was said.
if she or he is lying about not telling you what to do, non-accusatory questions
will require self-examination. Handled the other way, "Don't talk to me that way!"
without questions will only trap your partner into a defensive posture and
make her or him look ridiculous, which will be destructive to self-esteem and
If, on the other hand, she or he admits
to be telling you what to do, you can counter with other dialogue questions before
objecting and precipitating an argument. Those questions could be, "Why would
you want to tell me what to do?" "Do you think we should boss each other around?"
"Why would you think that bossing me around would be the best way to get what
you want?" All of these dialogue questions can help your partner to think.
correction such as, "Don't talk to me that way!" will likely create fear or confusion
and bring forth defensiveness, rather than real thought about behavior. When your
partner thinks things through, there is a much better chance of her or him thinking,
learning and changing.
of One Another is Critical
People love to
be understood and accepted. When they are understood and accepted, greater trust
between people is the result. And trust is essential to strong, loving relationships.
But, you can't really accept another person until you understand
him or her. Therefore, understanding what a person says is much more important
than just hearing what words are said. It is only really possible to accept another
person after you understand why he or she thinks or feels the way he or she does
the meaning beneath the words. You can be generally accepting, such as in, "I
will accept anything.", but that is not true understanding or acceptance. A person,
accepted without understanding, will not feel truly accepted, understood and safe.
This is why it is necessary to explore a person's answers.
Are Very Different from One Another
between people are at the heart of living. If each of you appreciates the other,
things go so much smoother. But, people are different. They act in different ways.
They talk differently, see the world differently, make their decisions differently,
and even gain personal energy differently.
And, so, the one
thing that can hold back love, appreciation and cooperation in your relationship
is a lack of acceptance of the other's differences.
can help you overcome the criticism and lack of closeness that differences sometimes
cause. It can help each of you become fascinated with the other's differences
rather than becoming irritated. Over time, you can discover how each of you is
unique and interesting.
While we might be more comfortable
with people who are just like us, similar people are not all that fascinating.
It really is the differences in people that provide variety and excitement and
surprises to our lives as long as differences are not rejected and criticized.
Do you know, according to the personality theory of the late
Carl Jung and measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that people gain personal
energy in two very different ways? Most people gain energy from what is happening
around them. I am one of these kinds of people. If I am at a boisterous party,
I leave with lots of energy. I am going to have to lose some energy to be able
to go to sleep.
But, then there is a smaller group of people,
about 35% of the folks, who, like my wife Jean, gain energy from having their
conscious focus on the inside. That same wild party that gives me so much energy
will drain energy out of Jean.
This difference in how people
gain and lose energy explains a lot of different behavior. Usually we complain
about and criticize these differences. I did it too when I was younger. I would
say to Jean on the way home from a party we both enjoyed, "Why are you not cheerful?
Didn't you have a good time?" In essence, I was complaining that, in her tiredness
and quietness, she was ending the evening incorrectly. Actually, it was my complaining
and lack of appreciation of who she was that was ending the evening poorly.
also, do you know, according to the personality theory measured by the Myers-Briggs
Type Indicator, that people look at the world in two basically very different
ways? Most people see the world through their five senses sight, sound, touch,
smell and taste. That's the way my wife Jean is. But, some of us, myself and up
to 35% of the population, look at the world through a sixth sense, called "intuition".
This difference is like two people speaking two different languages not known
very well by the other.
Here's an example of how not knowing
and appreciating one another's differences can really make things difficult.
our two natural daughters were 4 and 5 years old, before our foster daughter joined
our family for her whole lifetime, there was some hitting and crying. Jean asked
me, "Did you see what just happened?" I answered, "They're mad at each other."
There was a short pause. Then Jean looked at me and said in irritation, "No, I
asked, Did you see what just happened?'" Again, I answered that our two little
girls were angry with each other. Jean repeated her question, and frustrated,
I answered again, both of us now speaking loud and angry. Soon our argument was
much worse than the argument the girls were having.
Jean is one of the majority who watch life through what they see, hear, taste,
touch and smell. So, when she was asking what I saw that had just happened, she
was meaning, "who hit who first?" I'm an intuitive. I watch the world with a focus
on what things mean. To tell you the truth, I probably did know who hit who first,
but that was not the question I heard. I heard, "What is happening?" So, I reported
that I saw that something had caused anger, then pushing and shoving and hitting,
and then they were still mad at each other.
I guarantee that
this interaction between Jean and I over 26 years ago was frustrating, aggravating,
and we were not thinking the right things about each other. But, it was just that
we, like most people, think that everyone is the same or ought to be just like
us. It just isn't that way. And smart people know and accept this fact.
the way, I suggest that you each take and study the results of the Myers-Briggs
Type Indicator, a tool that can tell you a lot about your two personalities. You
can do this by calling professional therapists, such as myself, in your area and
asking them if they give and are very familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
If they want to give you a lot of other tests, look for someone else someone
who pretty much specializes in the MBTI, as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is
I do not recommend taking the MBTI or any look-alike
on the Internet. This is a professional tool and should be explained to you by
a mental health professional familiar with the relevance for personal interaction.
for Good Dialogue
The important thing is to
remember that everyone's answer must be acceptable just as it was said. If your
partner seems to be joking or fooling around, that probably just means he or she
is nervous. Maybe he or she thinks that criticism will follow answers, so he or
she will draw the fire on silly answers. Just let those answers stand. In time,
your partner will see that it is safe to give honest answers that bring acceptance
and appreciation. Then the goofiness will fall away.
and relax. This is dialogue a time to learn, a time to relate not a time to
problem-solve. Enjoy it. Don't feel the pressure to control or change your partner.
Make sure that you ask a lot of questions to clarify what
is being communicated. Remember, the best questions usually are "Why?" and "What
do you mean?"
Dialogue will expose some differences that might
have to be solved. Make a note of those you think might need some discussion and
problem-solving to do later. But, during the time of dialogue, do not bring
There Are Problems
What do you do if one of
you seems unable or hesitant to give answers? If it is just on one or two items,
just let that person not answer those particular items. Making a big deal out
of a few questions will ruin the fun and the feeling of safety. Safety is very
important! Those giving answers must not be criticized in any way.
one of you just does not want to use dialogue, it is most likely a safety issue.
Perhaps he or she was criticized as a child and has no assurance that talking
will be safe. Perhaps there is a history between the two of you of criticism.
In any case, don't panic or become discouraged.
You want to
discuss, as best as you can, why one of you feels unsafe in just giving information
about yourself or in answering a few questions. The person who is not resistant
to talking should ask simple, friendly, and harmless questions such as, "Why are
you hesitant to talk?" "Are you afraid I will make fun of you?" "Have people made
fun of you in the past?" "Does it seem that I ridicule you?" "Has no one ever
really been interested in getting to know you better?" See if the two of you can
resolve the problem.
If the two of you cannot find safety
in dialoguing, do yourselves a big favor and get some help from a marriage and
family counselor in your area. This communication problem is going to limit the
happiness the two of you could be experiencing for years to come. Go ahead and
get some help. It's not that embarrassing. And, it is not failure it is success.
Jean and I are both professional psychotherapists. I once was the program director
of a huge mental health center. And, we have been to marriage counseling. If anybody
makes fun of you for getting help, consider that their maturity level is deficient.
For good dialogue, it is important
to follow these basic ground rules:
(1) You don't need anyone's
permission to answer what is true for you. These are your answers. But, try to
be careful regarding your answers. Your partner will be trying to remember what
you said so that he or she can treat you better.
(2) No arguing,
criticizing, or objecting. People hate to be criticized about things they say.
They know what they think and feel, and they consider it absurd and insensitive
if others think they know these things better.
in order to understand the other person, not to change him or her.
Ask lots of questions (usually "why?") to clarify what is being communicated.
Other clarifying questions can be: What? What for? How? When? How come? Where?
In what way? Can you explain? Please tell me more.
from giving advice or breaking in with your own thoughts or feelings on the subject.
(When your partner is through can no longer answer any more questions or you
can think of no more to ask you can ask permission to share your feelings and
thoughts about the subject. (But, not about how your partner said things!)
Let your partner be herself or himself, even if she or he gives an answer that
you do not agree with or like. Instead of objecting or offering criticism, ask
your partner "Why" questions. This will help you clarify what she or he is saying,
what she or he thinks and feels about things, and who she or he is. Your partner
will appreciate your efforts to understand her or him.
Avoid conflict over answers. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers. There is
just what your partner says. It is not so good to know about your partner without
talking it over with him or her. On the other hand, you get a lot of appreciation
for asking and learning about your significant other from his or her own words.
(8) Solve problems only after much dialogue has produced deeper
understanding. Dialogue will expose some differences that might have to be solved.
Make a note of those you think might need some discussion and problem-solving
to do later. But, during the time of dialogue, do not bring up problems.