How to Talk Respectfully (And Invite Respectful Responses) Illustrating Skill #3
An I-message is a message in which I tell you something about myself, like “I thought it was best for me to leave when I did.” Or, “I left when I did because I didn’t want to be late for my appointment.” Or, “I left when I did because I was feeling uncomfortable.” It amounts to a bit of self-disclosure. The subject of the sentence is always “I.”
What I mean by saying that “reflecting” is a listening skill is. The parent acts like a mirror verbally stating the emotion that she (the parent) thinks the child is experiencing, or the meaning she thinks the child is expressing. Example: “So, you are feeling angry.” Or, “I think you are saying you don’t want to go, is that right?” Or, “Gee, that must have been embarrassing.”. More examples are given below.
This technique is eferred to as “Active Listening” by Thomas Gordon, who really emphasizes it in his writings and training classes. I prefer the term “reflecting” because my two other listening skills (acknowledging and asking questions) require the parent to actively communicate with the child.
This “reflecting” technique or skill is the most unusual and therefore perhaps the most difficult of the three listening skills. At first, it seems like a very unnatural way to respond to somebody, but the effect it often has is to encourage the child to say more about what they just said. This is what you want–that the child gets the idea that you are “tuned in” and want to hear more of his ideas on the topic being discussed.
Reflecting statements always mirror back to the child what they said or seem to be communicating non-verbally. They are always statements. They are not to be delivered as questions. If you choose, you might follow the statement with a question to verify accuracy of what you said.
Reflecting statements are not opinions of your own. They are you, simply mirroring what the other is communicating, verbally or non-verbally. They do not mean you agree with what the child said! They only mirror back what the child communicated.
Don’t take anything your child says or does personally.
This might sound impossible. But your child’s negative, immature, insulting, critical, and/or vulgar speech and unacceptable or hurtful behavior do not determine or affect who you are–as a parent or as a person.
Those things say a lot more about your child than about you. They say s/he is angry, doesn’t know a better way of talking, or is perhaps purposely trying to hurt your feelings or make you mad.
On the one hand, this listening technique is completely natural. When we want to know more, what do we do? We ask. On the other hand, what makes this technique different is that in-between the questions, we listen to each of the child’s responses that we’re getting and
Holding the Child Accountable:
The You-and-Me Dialogue
I refer to the “Accountability Dialogue” also as the “You-and-Me Dialogue” because this is where I (parent) talk to you (child) about how we are treating each other — especially after you break an agreement you have made with me.
Unacceptable child behaviors (UCBs), such as temper tantrums, arguments, angry and disrespectful insults, lying, stealing, physical or verbal attacks on others, etc., can be distressing events for parents. How to handle them can often be a confusing disciplinary challenge.
In my New School approach to “how to be a parent,” I advocate reaching an agreement with the child (even as young as two years old) about how they will handle any particular UCB in the future. The best the parent can expect to get at that point is
NOTE: What is said here, and throughout this website, is applicable to adult-adult relationships as well as to parent-child relationships.
In this dialogue process you use all the listening skills (questions, acknowledgment, and reflectivng) and the illustrating skills (modeling, honest and open communication, and I-messages). While arriving at an agreement on something here and now that is important to you, what’s even more important in the long run is that the child is learning to respectfully negotiate a solution to a problem and reach an agreement that you can both live with.
The following steps might seem pretty complicated at first. But they’re very logical, and if you make this your standard M.O. (method of operation), you’ll get pretty good at it, and you’ll be able to do the whole process without even trying to concentrate on whether all the steps have been used.
Note: These ideas apply to adult-adult relationships as well as to parent-child relationships.
Harmony in a relationship or a home means that love, caring, and cooperation are felt and practiced between the family members. There are nine core relationship skills that parents need to develop and use with their children if they wish to avoid stressed relationships and promote harmony. I will briefly lay them out here with the understanding that each of them requires considerably more thought and sufficient effort for them to come alive in interaction between people.
Using the analogy of building a house, I divide the nine core skills into three different sets: listening, illustrating, and disciplining. Each set constitutes one step toward parent-child harmony, and represents a different section of the house.
What is said here about a parent listening to a child applies equally to an adult listening to another adult.
To me the evidence is overwhelming. The importance of listening far outweighs the importance of speaking in creating and maintaining good communication. I go so far as to say that it counts for 90% of the communication process–and particularly of good communication. This is especially true of parents listening to children.
The Value, Power, and Results of Listening
Here’s a simplistic way to look at this. We have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Four out of five of those organs are for taking information in, and only one is for speaking it out. That’s 80% right there! Beyond that, though, listening has such incredible value and power in any relationship, and it is difficult to do well, that it counts for a full 90% of what constitutes good communication. Consider the following.