In a conflict situation it’s easy to get entangled in what the other person is doing that upsets me. But that’s not helpful — it only adds to my anger or shame and makes things worse.
When there’s tension in my relationship with Bill or someone else I take out The Communication Wheel. It’s simple questions that clear up the tangle of emotions and thoughts in me and guides me in communicating with “I Statements” to invite my loved one to understand me. I also use it to listen and empathize with others better.
There are five key questions in The Communication Wheel:
- What did I sense (hear, see, etc)?
- What did I think?
- What did I feel?
- What did I want?
- What am I going to do?
This tool is a way to practice the wisdom of James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
It’s easy to memorize these questions and the general process. With practice it becomes natural to communicate this way. It promotes awareness, personal responsibility, understanding, and empathy. It fosters the healthy boundaries and bonding that make for a loving relationship.
When you do the work of learning to communicate and listen in this manner then you can model it to your family and invite them to share with you in this way. Even children can learn to talk and listen this way. Let’s look at two examples:
Conflict with your school aged child:
When I heard you snap at me about not wanting to do your homework I thought you were being insensitive. And I felt hurt and disrespected. I started worrying about whether you’d finish your homework so I could go to bed. I wanted to get you to finish your homework. So what I did was I criticized you.
I am sorry. How did this feel for you?
Conflict with your spouse:
I see you frowning. I think you are angry at me. I feel insecure, like when I was a girl and my dad was frustrated with me. I feel confused and afraid you will judge me or reject me. I want to withdraw to protect myself, but I also want to be close to you and to know I matter to you. So I’m taking courage (doing) and asking if you are angry at me and if so why?
Sometimes you can’t communicate this way or the other person won’t listen. What then?
I use The Communication Wheel to journal my experience and to pray through it. Maybe later there will be opportunity to communicate with my loved one.
This concept and the five questions make up “The Awareness Wheel” in the book Talking Together by Miller, Nunnally and Wackman.
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