Communication Without Explanations

Communication without the Explanations: A How-To guide for the Speaker and the Listener.

This communication without explanations tip was designed for the couple that is already in therapy to be used at home between sessions.

For many, communication without explanations is a challenging task. It means the speaker communicates his/her experience and perspective without the listener defending, blaming, or justifying his/her behavior. To communicate explanation free (as well as blame free, or defense free), it requires the listener to focus on the content based on the speaker’s perspective, and not at from his/her own perspective. The role of the speaker is to focus on one specific behavior/situation without blaming, labeling, assuming, or generalizing. The speaker shares only the facts (who, what, when, where, etc.) as well as his/her thoughts and emotions in response to the facts. The listener’s job is to understand what the situation is like from the speaker’s perspective. This tends to be a difficult task for many because this is not how most of us were taught to communicate. It is a common misunderstanding that communication is almost like a debate, that everyone takes turns getting his/her points of view across. Unfortunately, the debate style of communication often leads to rebuttal building, often leaving emotions and data unheard and unaddressed. This type of communication keeps the focus on one basic issue, while preventing argument hopping, “kitchen sinking it,” (everything but the kitchen sink) and an overall missing the point.

The following steps and examples model how a listener and a speaker can successfully communicate without explanations, and in turn honor the speaker’s experience.

Communication without explanations: Beginning Steps

When practicing communication without explanations, here are a few tips to help the speaker become more effective: In order to help the listener avoid the temptation to explain or argue, there are 3 simple areas to pay attention to when creating a sentence to that reflects your experience: Behavior, Thought, and Emotion. An example of an appropriately formed sentence for this exercise (which will be used throughout the tip):

“When you came to pick me up for dinner, and I met you at your car, you already had a drink in your hand, what I thought about that was I am going to lose you to alcohol, and about that I felt fear, and anger. “

Communication without explanations: How to identify the Behavior, Thought, Emotion

Refer to the example sentence above to follow how to complete these 3 steps. Taking the first part of the sentence, this is your identified behavior.

Behavior: “When you came to pick me up for dinner and I met you at your car, you already had a drink in your hand.” When describing the behavior be descriptive. Avoid labels like, “when you were drunk.” A label such as drunk could be distracting to the listener, and is also an assumption. Instead describe what you saw: slurred words, smelled of alcohol, couldn’t keep balance, etc. The behavior is simply an exact, but brief play by play of what you saw. Remember to keep your sentence brief and to the point, again the less temptation there is for the listener to argue or become distracted by, the better.

Thought: “I am going to lose you to alcohol.” This is your automatic thought/response to the behavior. To help identify one’s automatic thought, it’s your initial response, it’s what first popped in your head in reaction to a behavior. Be sure to speak from the “I” position (I thought, I realized), this helps the you as the speaker to own your experience, without blame or attacking the listener. Other phrases to begin explain the thought “What I made up about that was..” “And what I thought about that was..”

Emotion: “I felt fear and anger”Every emotion we have has a purpose, and our emotions come from our thoughts. For some, it is easier to identify the emotion, but a struggle to backtrack and find out what thought triggered that emotion. For others, it may be easy to identify the thought, but difficult to identify the emotion. As a quick reference guide, narrow your options down by focusing on the 8 basic emotions: Anger, Passion, Love, Shame, Guilt, Pain, Fear, and Joy.

A few helpful statements to use when verbalizing the emotional experience include: “And how I felt about that was..” “What I made myself feel about that is..” or “The emotions I feel are..”

Communication without explanations: The Role of the Listener As the listener you have a basic job of deciding whether or not you share the speaker’s perception or not. When deciding if you share the same perception, just take the first part of the sentence. To use example A’s behavior: “You came to pick me up for dinner and I met you at your car, you already had a drink in your hand.” As the listener, you either agree with speakers perception (that you arrived for dinner already with a drink in hand, having driven) or you don’t (that you have a different perception).

If you do share the speaker’s reality, focus on this only. Don’t explain why things happened, only share your reaction to what you heard the listener say. You then have the option to share any feelings around that. For example (again following the same example) “Yes, I do share the same perception that I arrived for our dinner plans with a drink in my hand after driving over with the same drink in hand.” This where the listener needs to check in with him/herself to explore the feelings they have around the agreed perception. As a guide, refer above to the list of the 8 basic emotions. Ask yourself, what is it like for you (emotionally) to not have this knowledge about this person (the speaker).. In this example the feeling identified is guilt, so express it: “About that I feel guilt.” This is a great opportunity for the listener to reflect back on the thought and emotions of the speaker, and in just a sentence or two communicate your acknowledgment of the speaker’s experience, even validate if you want to.. “I had no idea you thought that you weren’t important to me, you’re the most important thing to me. I am sorry my behaviors lead you to question that and worry about my safety.” This type of final response is the listener demonstrating his/her empathy and understanding of the speaker’s experience, and without taking on the speaker’s feelings, the listener is merely reflecting, expressing their regret around the experience, without trying to solve or explain.

If you don’t share the same perception, )taking the above example), if you don’t have any recollection of drinking and driving the night of the dinner, you can simply respond by saying, “I have a different perception about that, would you like to hear it?” In one sentence, two maximum share with the speaker what you perceive to be your reality, but this can often be a tricky task to complete without trying to explain. For example, “I recall driving over to meet you for dinner, but I don’t recall having a drink in my hand.”

Often, when you split up the sentence as demonstrated above, very rarely are there different realities in the end. Once the behavior is described without the blame, and any labeling or assumptions have been removed, there is a very basic bare-bones behavior identified, and once the “fluff” removed, it’s an accurate account of two realities. Resist the urge to argue about whose reality is right. The important piece is hearing the thought and the feeling.

Communicating conflict or negative experiences don’t always have to end in resolution, or in someone being right, and the other wrong. Sometimes communicating negative emotions can be just that. Everyone has a right to express them one at a time, and as long as the person on the other end has fully heard them, (whether or not they agree with the issue at hand) then more understanding, more intimacy has been created.