Communicating with heart

heart-968777_640At one of my Wishful Thinking Women gatherings this weekend we talked about a wonderful way to improve communication with those you love, care about or work with. I first shared this post in 2011, and after talking about it on Saturday, I thought now would be a great time to re-post it. Enjoy!

Would you like to improve your relationships with your kids, your spouse, significant other, friends, extended family and co-workers?

If so, try the method Dr. Martin Seligman describes in his latest book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. Seligman is the father of positive psychology and in Flourish he discusses PERMA, the 5 pillars of well-being:

P – Positive emotion (happiness, fun, gratitude);

E – Engagement (flow – loosing ourselves or becoming completely absorbed in our work, our hobbies, or the moment);

R – Relationships (those that touch our hearts, our souls and our minds);

M – Meaning (a sense of purpose and fulfillment in our lives) and

A – Accomplishment (learning and moving forward with endeavors big and small and knowing and using your strengths).

Today, I’m focusing on only one aspect of PERMA – Relationships, and how to create better connections.

Dr. Shelly Gable, a researcher and professor of social psychology at UCSB, took a positive psychology approach to love and marriage research and discovered that how couples celebrate the good times, is a stronger indicator of the strength and resiliency of relationships than how they fight or deal with negative situations. This might not seem like a big deal, but for decades psychologists have been researching and trying to fix conflict or breaks in relationships rather than focusing on what make them stronger.

“Shelly Gable turns all this on its head. She is one of the few who work on what makes a marriage great, and her work holds a crucial lesson for all of us who want to transform a good relationship—marriage, parent, or friendship—into an excellent one.”

Gable developed the chart below to show and categorize how people communicate in response to good news. Read the chart and decide where the majority of your responses fall. (Be honest – awareness is the first step of change!)

Next, observe yourself in action this week to see if your reactions fall squarely where you think they do. If you discover that your actions are not speaking as constructively as you would like, follow these steps and in no time you will be seeing positive results.

  1. Pay attention. Let the person who is talking to you “see” that you are listening. Look them in the eye, turn your body toward them. Smile, laugh, touch them.
  2. Say something positive: “Oh, Susan, that is wonderful.” “I’m so excited for you.” or whatever words work for you. Let your choice of words and the way you say them show your excitement.
  3. Ask questions: “When did you get the good news?” “How did you find out?” And, then follow-up with a sincere “Tell me all the details.” or “You must have been so excited, tell me all about it.” Any words that show your honest interest are the perfect words. You don’t need to overdo it, just ask and then listen – actively. Stay involved in the conversation so the person you care about, can share and savor the good news with you. Let the conversation be all about them.
  4. Suggest a way to celebrate. “Let’s go out to dinner to celebrate.” “Let’s open a bottle of wine.” Let’s go to the movies.” “Let’s . . . ” simply fill in whatever you know the person or child would really enjoy.

If you’re involved in a conversation and you realize that you aren’t responding as you would like, no problem. Simply stop and ask for a do-over. Say something like “You know what, I don’t think I’m being as positive as I can be about your good news, can we start over?” And then, do it. Your listener may be surprised, but will appreciate it.

Active/Constructive communication works so well, you may notice immediate results. Seligman shares a wonderful story in his book about an Army sergeant, who began actively and constructively responding to his young son and reported “about halfway through the conversation, my son interrupted me and said, “Dad, is this really you?” The sergeant’s new approach made his son uneasy at first, but within a few minutes the happiness in the boy’s voice shared just how much his Dad’s attention and approval meant to him. (Seligman has designed and iimplemented a very successful resiliency program for all Army personal, which includes the concept of PERMA.)

Give active/constructive communication a try, and let us know how it works.

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