Communication Tips: Effective "Sending" Simple But Not Easy By Betsy Bergquist, Imago Therapist Reproduced with permission from the author Those of you with Imago workshop or counseling experience are well aware that the key process taught and learned is the Couples Dialogue. The Dialogue gives partners structured speaking and listening roles, and, when used appropriately, transforms “talk” or “conversation” between them into something far less random, isolating and reactive and much more satisfying, connecting and intimate. The potential to hurt is replaced by the potential to heal. Dialogue is at heart a very simple two-person activity, and in it we as partners fill certain very specific and simple roles and responsibilities as speakers — “senders”, or listeners — “receivers” in order for the process to work. But we ought not to confuse “simple” with “easy.” Most of us typically bring histories of using communication styles which have not yielded us the safety and passion we desire in our relationships, yet in the moment we don’t know anything else and often fall back on or defend what doesn't work: its familiarity gives us false comfort, so to speak. Thus Dialogue as a replacement requires close adherence to the structure — and then plenty of practice and fine tuning to make a habit out of it. That way you may start enjoying the exponential benefits, rather than backsliding into the old way which only got you where you are now. It’s not easy to do this. So in the interest of fine tuning, I note here a few points to review and ponder concerning the sending portion of Dialogue. These points can be useful not just to those with experience with it, but also to general readers with no direct knowledge of Dialogue, and who nonetheless are looking for tips for communicating more intentionally and “dialogically” — and with better outcomes — for themselves and their partners. I hope these tips will help all of you as senders continue to make this simple process easier. 1.  Before asking your partner for dialogue spend some time clarifying your issue within yourself. What do you really want to address? Be curious about why the subject has some “charge” for you. 2.  Keep your issue as narrow as possible. Minimize tangents and elaborations. 3.  Let go of the outcome. If you communicate well, the outcome will take care of itself. 4.  Begin the dialogue by stating a positive intention. Focus on exploring yourself and the source of your reaction rather than on assigning blame: "My intention in saying this is to...", "In this dialogue, I hope to..." 5.  Use “I” statements: “I perceive….”, “I imagine that means….”, “I feel…” 6.  Give your partner only small units of information at a time and wait to be mirrored. This increases the likelihood of being heard and mirrored accurately. 7.  Clearly and enthusiastically reinforce accurate mirroring by your partner. “That is so right! Thank you.” “Boy, that’s almost perfect! Here’s the little bit that I want to clarify…” 8.  Make sure your words, tone of voice, facial expression, and body language are congruent. No "mixed messages." 9.  Avoid all criticism, i.e., any statement that denigrates (“You are so selfish’), labels (“You are just too sensitive”), or characterizes (“Your problem is…”) your partner. 10.  If you must talk about your partner in terms of his or her behavior, emphasize that this is your perception and interpretation and not “reality”: “What I make up is…”, “What I imagine you mean is….”, ”How I see this is…” 11.  Be willing to be vulnerable by talking, for example, of the emotions evoked, your related memories of childhood, or your secret wishes and needs — expressed as needs, not demands. Through our personal experience and that of hundreds of other couples we know, it’s clear to me that the Dialogue is an elegant remedy for the customary and dissatisfying ways of all-too-typical partner communication, especially, for the expression of concern or frustrations when the sender fears that the topic may be too touchy, off- limits, or destined for impasse or an attack/defend exchange. By changing the rules and one’s perspective at the same time, it serves to reopen the door to safety and passion we all desire.  
Communication Tips
Suzanne Corcoran, LCSW-C, Counseling for Couples and Individuals in Rockville, Maryland