I understand… I feel… I want…

Sometimes clients fall into their old communication habits of talking over each other, listening for points to argue against, and start out with negatives and on the defensive. Happens to all of us.

I invite them to step out of that old habit and re-shape their conversation with 3 prompts. Each partner uses the 3 sentence starters and completes the sentences. They listen for what they understand, not what they disagree with. They use these prompts back and forth until a better understanding and connection is achieved, usually within 2 or 3 rounds.

A few key qualities:

1. Each sentence is about yourself.

2. Each sentence is short and to-the-point. (Don’t get lost in storytelling and thinky-thoughty analytic stuff.)

3. Each sentence is positive. (Avoid no’s, don’ts, won’ts, can’ts)

Here’s what each accomplishes:

“I understand” should be followed by at least one thing their partner said that they understand, even if they don’t agree. “I understand you’re angry at me about how last night played out because you didn’t get what you wanted from me.”

“I feel” should be followed by an emotion; it should not be followed by “like…” as in “I feel like you\’re not giving me credit for how hard I tried” or “I feel like you’re picking a fight with me.” Better: “I feel sad that what was supposed to be fun turned disappointing and upsetting.”

“I want” should be followed by something positive you want to happen or change for which you can take responsibility to achieve. “I want to avoid that confusion in the future, so I commit to being explicit with you about our plans and not making assumptions about what you might want.” Not: “I want you to be more flexible and less rigid when I make plans for us together.”