I think I've mentioned before that I coach probation officers in a technique called Motivational Interviewing. It's a set of communication skills that helps to minimize defensive reactions in clients, and assists them in resolving the ambivalent feelings that keep them from making the lifestyle changes they want to make. I've recently noticed some areas of my life where I'd like to implement these skills more consistently, so these are sort of my notes to myself.
The backbone of Motivational Interviewing is reflections. A reflection is a statement that conveys to the speaker what the listener heard and understood of their message. For example, if someone says, "How can they expect me to stop drinking when all my best friends meet at the bar every night after work?" I might reflect, "So you are wondering how you could possibly give up something that's been such an important part of your social life so far."
I offer reflections in my professional relationships every day. And I'm not so hot at it in my personal relationships. I seem to take for granted that there's a core of accurate understanding between us, so I jump right into my response without letting the other person know my understanding of what I am responding to.
It's not that reflections need to happen constantly. I don't need to respond to a comment that a hamburger sounds tasty right now by reflecting, "So you are feeling hungry and a hamburger would satisfy that."
But when we are discussing emotional issues, and I sense closure or defensiveness arising, it is probably going to facilitate a more open and productive conversation if I remember to wait to share my response until I've clarified the other person's message, and we are both sure that I've understood what they want me to understand.