I was preparing for my nursing boards the other day by doing practice questions. I don’t remember what the question asked, but the rationale indicated that asking why was nontherapeutic because it could come across to the patient as accusatory. More on that latter. However, there is a lot to be learned about therapeutic communication for life in general. With the social landscape so polarized, here are a few things that might help you connect with those around you better.
Pause & Retreat
Peter McFadden describes how to effectively use this concept in his article “Time-Outs Taught Me How to Handle Conflict” for Verily Magazine. However, this is something I have had first had experience with. I had just met a guy I really liked. I definitely wanted to get to know him better and maybe even something more. Then, another young man came in like the great American Eclipse. I was alarmed and confused.
Antagonist had tried to initiate things with me previously, but I wasn’t interested especially after he had gotten upset every time I tried to associate with my other male companions who were very dear to me. Now, he was suddenly best friends with Mr. Interesting and increasingly friendly. Mr. Interesting was becoming increasingly distant. I tried to push Antagonist away while getting a little more aggressive about pursuing Mr. Interesting. To make a long story short, Mr. Interesting was not interested and got very uncomfortable. That lead to a couple uncomfortable verbal exchanges then some written exchanges. Finally, I called a time-out “to process.” After that, we had one of the most productive conversations. I felt much better and he verbalized that I had showed by my words that I understood [him]. Sometimes, you have to take a moment to like raging emotions calm down and then talk.
I pulled my dearest friend out of his introverted shell by arguing with him because I couldn’t figure out any other way of getting to him. Yet, arguing was marvelously effective! Now, we were sitting in his car driving over miles of California desert to visit my relatives and another argument was about to start. I had just told him that I didn’t see things from his perspective and his face was twisting up. I didn’t argue this time. I told him a story. I was able to see things from my perspective. It turned out that he didn’t see things that differently from me. I was effective and it strengthened our friendship. Storytelling is important.
When I heard that protesters were vandalizing Confederate statues all over the country, I thought it was a piece of nonsense. To me it was an unnecessary destruction of history. To me Robert E. Lee wasn’t a bad man. He was only a man that caught on the wrong side of the war for personal and perhaps political reasons. My cousin gently liken the confederate statues to Nazi swastikas posted in a Jewish neighborhood. Even though swastikas are symbol of the cross. I stopped a moment to step in to the shoes of the wounded children of slaves and feel their feelings. I agree that those Confederate statues could be very hurtful. That being said, let’s find a productive and professional way to deal with them.
So back to the concept of never asking why. Although I couldn’t find any more information about why it was untherapeutic to ask “why,” they did suggest asked the client more about how he felt about the situation. That seemed like a sneaky way to ask why. So, never ask why, but always be questioning? That’s how I saw it. Choosing the right words to reach a person is also a key to great communication.
What are your keys to developing great communication with the people around you?