Archive for November, 2010

“I Know What You’re Thinking”

November 15, 2010

OK, my friends, let’s be real for a moment.

Have you ever said to your partner, “I know what you’re thinking”, and then proceeded to tell your partner, only your partner says, “No that’s not it.” Then you say,  “Yes, it is.” Your partner says, “No it’s not.”  Then you have a disagreement about what you think they think?

Admit it, we’ve all done it. I’ve done it. You probably have done it and we will all probably do it again. It’s crazy-making.

I think it always starts with non-verbal behaviour. Think about your own non-verbal communication with your partner. Here is a quick review of how it shows up in relationships. Identify what you do on the list.

Flickr / Pink Sherbet Photography

Review your non-verbal behaviour

Eye contact – When you look at your partner do you really look or avoid eye contact? Do you hold their gaze and feel connected when you look at your partner?

Facial Expression – What is YOUR face showing? Are you expressive and emotionally present? Do you smile? Are you expressionless or show disapproval in your face? What does your partner see when they look at your face at different times? How does your face look when you are thoughtful, scared, upset, interested? Do you ever roll your eyes at them and make a face if you disagree? Do you yawn when they are telling you something important? What are your raised eyebrows saying? Facial expressions are key to how the “I know what you’re thinking” scenario starts.

Tone of Voice – What does your voice project? Does your tone tell your partner you are present, non-judgmental, interested, delighted, curious, compassionate or quite the opposite? This is also KEY to the “I know what you’re thinking” scenario.

Posture and Gestures – What does your body look like when you are communicating with your partner? Relaxed or tense, open or closed, warm or cold? Do you nod your head to show you are listening or nod in a different direction to show you are not listening and disagree? Are your hand/arm motions inviting or threatening to your partner? When your partner is talking do you ever keep watching TV, reading, walk out of the room?

Touch – How do you touch your partner? Is that how THEY like to be touched?

Sounds – Do you use sounds to show you are attending to your partner like “Mmm, hmm” in a gentle soft manner or the opposite? The opposite includes sighing in an irritated manner.

Timing and pace – Do you give your partner time to respond and to talk or do you interrupt or even finish your partner’s sentences?

These aspects of how you communicate non-verbally are probably the most important determinants of how any interaction with you partner will go. What’s exciting is that you control this and can change if you want to. That is why in Imago we say YOU can be a container of safety for your partner…or not – it’s a choice.

Communication is more than the words you say

Couples tell me all the time that the main problem in their relationships is that they can’t communicate. They generally believe that if they could just learn how to talk to their partners and more specifically how their partners should talk to them, their problems would be solved. I must say, in all due respect, they are wrong. What couples need to learn is how to work on their non-verbal communication. Couples need to learn about everything that is NOT about talking but about non-verbal connecting. This is where the real work lies.

Did you know that when we hear a message only about 7% of what’s important is the words we are saying. In fact 38% is about vocal aspects of communication (volume, tone, rhythm, pitch; not the actual words) and a further 55% is our body movements, primarily our facial expressions. Isn’t that astounding? To realize our words don’t really matter but how we communicate them is what gets processed and interpreted by the brain. Research in the field of non-verbal communication shows some parts of our faces are more revealing than others. For example, our eyes can communicate happiness, sadness or surprise. Our mouth and lips say a lot too. The most positively powerful facial expression is a smile. This is, by the way, a cross-cultural phenomenon.

Flickr / Felix Francis

What does this mean for relationships?

Well it means we make up stories about our partners based on their non-verbal behaviours. Then we usually decide that we are right about what we have just made up and that we know “What They are Thinking”  all by interpreting what they are NOT saying. What’s interesting is that our partners may not even be aware of what their non-verbal behaviour is communicating.

Here’s a case in point. For a long time my partner thought that when I made this certain look and wrinkled my forehead in a certain way I was angry. After years of believing this, and her withdrawing because she wanted to avoid my anger, we realized it.  That wrinkle in my brow was something I was doing unconscionably when I was really concentrating on what she was saying. I was not angry. But of course when she withdrew thinking I was angry when I was not, I got really angry because she was withdrawing! Guess what, this only reinforced her interpretation. We could have saved a lot of mis-communications if we had only realized this much earlier by just sitting down and checking it out,  but you live and learn!

Note to self…

By the way, sometimes our thoughts about our partner’s non-verbal communication and their thoughts about ours are correct. Problem is, when we react instead of dialoguing about our perceptions, things usually DO NOT go well.

Note to self, remember to check out my  perceptions and assumptions and then be prepared to HEAR the answer and ACCEPT it.

Here are some perfectly positive non-verbals that I guarantee will help your relationship…

Dare Ya-

When your partner comes home, go to them, greet them with a warm hug and sit down with them and listen to how their day was without distractions, just say “mmm”, “wow,” “tell me more.”

Make a conscious effort to reach out and touch your partner more in the way they like. When your partner touches you, touch them back.

Next time you are out with your partner with friends, catch their gaze and wink at them! (This is one of the best!)

Let your finger gently drift across your partner’s cheek when you are standing close to them.

Squeeze your partner’s hand next time you are in public to connect with them.

Smile at your partner and hold their gaze with your eyes for a little longer than usual!

Have fun and if this scares you, good. I never promised it was easy!

Yours truly,