4 skills of frank conversation


For almost half a century, the staff of John Gottman’s “laboratory of love” studied how two lovers “live happily ever after.” They observed and analyzed the relationships of thousands of couples and determined exactly what distinguishes the relationship masters from the losers. One of the main differences is the ability to conduct deep conversations and truly hear each other. Here are the recommendations that John Gottman gives in his new book, 8 Important Dates.

Schedule a meeting in advance, arrange that you and your partner leave your work and household chores behind the scenes, turn off electronic communications and spend time focusing on each other, talking about something personal. Remind yourself that your relationship does not come down to housekeeping and parenting. First and foremost, you are friends and people who love each other.

Not all conversations will be easy. In order not to lose love, a level of openness is required, which sometimes causes discomfort. It’s hard for some people to talk about sex and intimacy. It is difficult for others to discuss development and spirituality. For others, it is difficult to talk about monetary problems. You may be worried about whether the conversation will lead to a quarrel.

Here are some skills to help everyone express how they feel. They do not have to be used every time, although there are no restrictions. They are used to start and maintain a frank conversation.

1. State your feelings in words

Try saying something like this: I feel …

  • that you accept me
  • that you understand me
  • that you reject me
  • that you value / underestimate me
  • that you belittle me
  • that you neglect me
  • that you don’t even like
  • that annoying you
  • that is far from you
  • offended / scared / abandoned
  • a loser
  • unattractive
  • thanks to you
  • shyness
  • tenderness and affection,
  • voltage,
  • your estrangement / loneliness
  • (sexual) arousal
  • romantic mood,
  • anxiety / resentment / fatigue / regret / disgust / fear / joy / boredom / anger / shame.

Now talk about why you had these feelings. You can include a description of the events that led to this feeling, a story from your childhood, your observations, insight or revelation that you experienced – in general, everything that, as you think, could cause this feeling.

2. During a frank conversation, ask your partner open-ended questions

For example, such:

  • What do you feel? / What else do you feel?
  • What would you really like?
  • What do you really want to say and to whom exactly?
  • What feelings are you afraid to even think about?
  • Do you have mixed feelings? If so, which ones?
  • What events from your own life does this remind you of?
  • What decisions do you need to make?
  • How does this fit with your values?
  • Think of the person you truly admire. What would he say or do and how would he look at this situation?
  • Who or what do you disapprove of?
  • What has changed in you or is changing now and how have these changes affected the situation?
  • How would you like this situation to be resolved now or in the future?
4 skills of frank conversation

3. Help your partner talk about their feelings and needs.

Try to insert phrases into the conversation during a conversation:

  • Tell me a story related to this situation.
  • I want to know everything that you feel.
  • Talk to me, I’m listening to you.
  • For me, there is nothing more important than listening to you.
  • We have plenty of time to talk. Take your time, speak out properly.
  • Tell me what are your top priorities in this situation.
  • What options do you think you have?
  • When you do not know what to do, this is normal, but what are your assumptions?
  • I think you already found a solution. Tell me what it is.
  • Help me look at the situation with your eyes. What are the most important points for you?
  • Tell me what bothers you the most.
  • Tell me more about how you see this situation.
  • Tell me about a decision that you think will have to be made.

4. Show tolerance, empathy, support your partner

Try embedding affirmative statements like the following:

  • Everything that you said is completely justified.
  • You must be feeling so hopeless!
  • I feel your despair / pain when you talk about it.
  • You are in a difficult situation.
  • I’m on your side.
  • Oh cool sounds awesome!
  • You must be very upset.
  • I support your position / I totally agree with you.
  • It seems to disgust you!
  • It hurts you a lot. I feel it.
  • That must have upset you.
  • What a disappointment!
  • This is very scary / It sounds scary.
  • It would also disappoint me / It would sadden me too.
  • Wow! It must have been unpleasant.
  • No wonder you’re angry.
  • I think I get it. So you feel …

Read more in John Gottman’s book, “8 Important Dating. How to create relationships for life ”(Audrey, Eksmo, 2019).

John Gottman

about the author

John Gottman – Family psychologist, professor at the University of Washington, one of the founders of the Institute for the Study of Marriage and Relations in Seattle. The author of several books.

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