by Charles Zook, masterful Relationship Coach & co-leader of The Relationship Series
Have you ever tried to resolve a difficult issue, and wondered why you seemed to get nowhere? Still irritated, still angry, still not feeling heard. Chances are you may have been co-processing, rather than using an effective means of communicating in conflict.
Co-processing is a term I use to describe attempting to process more than one person's concerns at the same time.
To illustrate, imagine you're watching a bunch of kids in your backyard and suddenly they all converge on the kitchen, all voicing their individual concerns simultaneously.
Quickly realizing you certainly cannot address ALL of their various concerns at the same time, you say, "Whoa, whoa, hold on. One at a time!" You know that has to be the next step. Until the cacophony settles down and you are able to get them to voice their concerns one at a time, you know there is no way to proceed in any constructive or effective manner. Once you get them to voice their concerns one at a time, you know you will be able to listen and find a solution, one at a time, then the next, and the next, until each concern has been addressed.
I am asserting that a similar sensible approach needs to be put into place when, for example, two people move from a calm discussion to a heated one.
In such a situation, both parties are talking over each other, interrupting, or even if only one person is talking at a time the other person is not really listening. Rather than really trying to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate, the "listener" isn't listening, they are having a strategy discussion in their head about what they are going to say once the other person stops talking. There is no communication (no communing, no understanding), just two people doing their best to "win", to be right, to not be wrong, to be vindicated, to prove their point.
This is what has been modeled for us with most of our families of origin, as well as reinforced by daily doses of media. Generally speaking, we just do not get educated about, or shown models for, effective communication.
In effective communication it is critical to avoid co-processing.
As soon as it is noticed that there is what I refer to as "tender or tense", much less if the situation turns into an argument, nothing good is going to happen unless the parties move to a more constructive approach.
My model would recommend determining who is going to be the speaker and who will be the listener.This is similar to the Native American custom of using a talking stick, except I recommend that the listener employ reflective listening frequently throughout ("what I hear you saying is..."). This gives the listener something challenging to focus on AND confirms in the speaker's mind that the listener is in fact listening to and understanding what is being communicated. Once the speaker feels heard, they can switch roles.
Slowing things down and being effective SEEMS like it will take longer, but in actuality, using an effective method works better and supports finding satisfying outcomes much more expediently than ineffectively talking at the same time.
Give it a try! See what happens. Share your miraculous discoveries here.
We love you,
Jessica and my brilliant collaborator Charles
(that's Charles --> and he's totally rad)
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, a mother, freelance consultant and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.