A few months ago I had two business partners phone me to say they were having extreme difficulty communicating with each other and that they were interested in having some coaching to improve the situation. They were both concerned that their negative behavior toward each other was putting the business that they had worked so hard to build in serious jeopardy. In addition, their frustration with each other was impacting their home life.
So how did the coaching sessions help? First, I acted as mediator, giving each partner a chance to express their view while the other one listened. It was very interesting that, as they explained their points to me, new awareness and understanding dawned between the partners. It was clear that previously, incorrect assumptions had been made, and that emotion, a heavy workload, stress and tiredness had completely clouded the intended message.
Second, I used an NLP technique called the Meta Mirror, where time is spent “standing in the shoes of another”—literally adopting their physical posture, mannerisms and speech patterns. By stepping into the partner’s shoes, the clients taking part in the exercise could think about how they themselves could behave differently to communicate more effectively.
- Third, we worked on the principles of assertive communication, broken down into four steps:
- Describe the situation or idea clearly and specifically. Use evidence if possible.
Acknowledge the other person’s viewpoint.
- Express how you feel about the situation. Use “I” or “My” statements to refer to how you are feeling and what you are thinking.
- Specify what you want. If appropriate, include an exact timeframe.
Finally, we practiced managing negative emotional states, hitting a mental “pause” button before reacting, taking a breath (one of them called it a “Nelson Mandala Moment”), or, if necessary, taking a few minutes away from the other person in order to calm down before continuing a difficult discussion.
At the end of the coaching sessions, I asked the clients what had changed in their relationship. They said that they had started being kinder to each other, were listening more without interruption, and were being more patient. When issues arose, they were working to use assertive communication to properly explain what they were thinking and feeling. Their relationship had become so much better that their staff even commented on it, saying that they really noticed a difference.
Although this was a business relationship, the approach can be helpful with any relationship between people—life partners, friends, parents and children.