Applying “Say What You See” to Adult Relationships

Last night I was fortunate to experience a very insightful workshop called “Communication in Relationships” led by our friend Chris Douglas — all from the comfort of our couch.  He offered practical wisdom on ways to engage more effectively with the primary adults in your life — your spouse, your friends, your co-workers, etc.  And I was able to take in just about all of it in between jogs upstairs to tend to my perpetually restless baby.  (Topic for another post….)

In the beginning of his presentation, Chris reminded us about about universal psychological and emotional human needs and how conflict arises when those needs are unmet. The top two needs on the list of many were: “to be accepted and loved” and “to be understood.”

It struck me having just finished reading Say What You See, that Chris may be teaching essentially the same concepts. Say What You See author, Sandra Blackard, coaches us to look for the unmet need of our children when they are behaving in a way that we don’t like, instead of judging or reacting in anger to their behavior.

In a very basic way, we’re no different than our little ones in feeling upset when our basic emotional needs are unmet. We’ve just been trained and socialized over the years to not fall on the floor, flail our bodies around, and scream or cry. We  have each developed our own home-grown patterns for responding to our perception of being rejected or wronged in some way.  In the case of our more intimate relationships, i.e. our spouses or partners, a common downward spiral challenge occurs when one person feels misjudged or misunderstood and cuts the other person off to defend himself or herself.

Sure enough, the main take-away my husband and I got from Chris’s class last night mirrored the sage wisdom from Blackard’s Say What You See.

Her advice for engaging more respectfully with our children suggests we take care to really hear them.  To say out loud what we see them doing, hear them saying, and believe them to be feeling or thinking, while doing our best to get into their worlds by modeling their emotions.  This gives children the opportunity to feel the enormous satisfaction of being understood– that very basic psychological and emotional need we all have.

Chris’s advice for engaging more respectfully with each other as adults:

He suggests that even if we think a false statement about ourselves or our intentions is being made, we consciously choose to listen and listen and keep listening, reflecting back everything that the other person is saying until they have said all that they want to say and feel complete, we can work through misunderstandings and conflict more respectfully and build consistently harmonious relationships.

This is one of those classic “simple, not easy” recommendations in life.  Everything makes sense when you’re hearing about it in a workshop or writing about it while sipping a cup of tea.  It’s your ability to center yourself  when your buttons are pushed to seek first to understand, then be understood.

Chris’s suggestion for dealing with the difficult application of his simple advice?  Meditation.  Yes, a daily practice would be ideal for accessing a higher self perspective every day.  But this isn’t realistic for every person or every family.  He suggested a very simple breathing meditation that even the over-stretched parent of small children can adopt and he said it’s particularly effective if you employ it when you get triggered.

The trick in using this breathing technique, if you remember to use it when someone has pushed your buttons to help you simply listen, is to count silently:

Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7, exhale for 8.  Repeat.

Doing this allows you to focus more on what the other person is saying because counting your breath in your head is significantly less distracting than thinking about how wrong the other person is, how you can make sure they understand how wrong they are, and all the things you need to say to defend yourself.

Worth a try, right?

If you’re in the Austin area and interested in taking a communication workshop with Chris, you can contact him at:

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4 Responses to “Applying “Say What You See” to Adult Relationships”

  1. adam butler says:

    Great post. Great reminders.

  2. Monica,

    Insightful observations about SAY WHAT YOU SEE!

    I loved the self-awareness in your comments on your thoughts “about how wrong the other person is, how you can make sure they understand how wrong they are, and all the things you need to say to defend yourself.”

    It inspired me to write a blog post ( ) about what to do when breathing isn’t enough. It’s linked to your article.

    Thanks for “listening” so thoroughly to my work and for sharing it with your readers.


    • Sandy — thrilled that you found my article and you like it. I was going to send you a direct tweet with a link. Thank you for linking to me. I appreciate it! My eldest attends Austin Montessori and I see that they are hosting SAY WHAT YOU SEE workshops this month. We’re unable to attend but happy to have discovered your handbook. Thank you!

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