As a psychotherapist, common groups of skills I teach involve communication techniques and strategies to promote healthy relationships and alleviate stress. Turmoil can arise in relationships for many reasons but one that I find popping up often revolves around feeling stressed at work and then bringing it home to friends and family. This type of behavior can eventually impact our relationships as we push away those who want to be near to us and run out of mental/emotional space to tend to those we love.
I have found that the techniques I use to teach parents and teens or spouses to communicate with each other are critically important because they serve as a benefit to both the listener and the one who needs to be heard. When we focus on building empathy, trust, and care in our relationships, there is less room for stress and tension. And when stress and tension do show up, then we are better equipped to handle them. Helping our relationships thrive while we are going through a stressful time is an essential tool to have in our “coping” toolbox, as it is something that impacts the most important people in our lives. After all, what is it worth to have every professional accomplishment if at the end of the day we feel distant and isolated from those we love?
Below is a technique that I and colleagues in my field use to help those we serve feel cared for and listened to. The “Open Invitation to Talk” technique is sometimes all someone is looking for in order to feel heard and closer to the listener. Read on below to learn more about this technique and how to apply it.
The “Open Invitation to Talk”
This technique is simple and straightforward and creates the necessary space for the person wanting to speak, to share what they need to without any constraints and without the conversation being led by someone else. When we use the “open invitation to talk” technique, it shows that we are interested in what the other has to say and also that they have our full attention and interest. When used during sessions, I have heard clients refer to it as a “gift” that not many people give. In our day to day life, how often do we encounter people who just let us say what we want to say and are invested in hearing it through?
A Simple “How-To”
When someone comes to you wanting to share what is on their mind, be it a bad day or how they feel about a certain situation, this technique can be a helpful tool to begin with. Using the words “Could”, “How”, and “What” are at the core of this technique. Beginning with these words creates an open conversation rather than a closed one.
Here is an example showing the difference between an open and a closed conversation:
Open: “Could you tell me about the situation with your coworker? How are you feeling towards them now? What are some things that were upsetting?”
Closed: “Did that coworker annoy you? Do you argue with them a lot? Are you going to do anything about it?”
Notice how the former provides room for the speaker to express the situation in their own words without the imposed categories of the person asking. This approach provides the opportunity for the speaker to explore their thoughts, feelings, and the situation. The closed conversation questions in the example are not necessarily “bad” questions because they can be used to gather information and facts. However, they can also bring the conversation to a halt, missing the opportunity for a deeper connection.
Could you see this technique being implemented in your life? How would it impact your relationships? Feel free to give this a shot the next time someone shares their hard day and see if it feels any different. By deliberately applying this simple technique, we can bring more attention to those people in our lives who deserve the best side of us and not just the leftovers.
Cindy Coughlin is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor at Catholic Charities New Hampshire.