Stay On Your Side of the Net For Better Communication
Communicating with your ex can often feel unproductive if you don’t have the proper tools to open a constructive dialogue.
I am Pam Masters, a collaborative family lawyer. I am a settlement specialist. I guide couples on the difficult journey of divorce without court involvement. I do this to reduce trauma to children, preserve financial assets and achieve better outcomes for my clients.
Today I’m going to talk to you again, about communication, one of my favorite topics. Co-parenting and former spouse relationships can be challenging, good communication is the key to better co-parenting or former spouse relationships. I heard something this week that described one of the pillars of good communication in a way that was very memorable. So, of course I’m going to share it with you.
In communication there are three things going on:
- The intention of the person who is speaking
- The behavior of the person speaking (i.e. their words, their tone, their body language)
- The impact of the person’s behavior on the listener.
In any exchange, the speaker only know two of those three things, the listener also only know two things but they’re not the same two. If you’re the listener, you know only the behavior you’re seeing, that’s the one thing you both know together, and the impact that it’s having on you. You don’t know the speaker’s intention and the speaker does not know the impact of what they are saying on you. So if you can imagine playing tennis or volleyball, or pickleball, one of those net sports, you know that you cannot pay from the back court on the other side of the net, you have to score points or defend your positions from your side of the net, you have to stay on your side of the net. And so it is with good communication, co-parenting or otherwise.
If, for example, you approach your spouse or former spouse with an important communication, and he or she does not appear to be listening; maybe they’re scrolling through their phone or something, you may say “you’re not listening to me!”. The moment you do that, you’re on the other side of the net. You do not know whether that person is listening to you or not. Now, those of us who are trained in good communication, we stick with “I” statements: “I don’t feel that you are listening to me”, “I’m on my side of the net, I’m saying what I’m feeling”, no you’re not! This is not any better than the first communication. If you can change the word “feel” to the word “think” in any sentence, then you’re not expressing a feeling. What you’re really saying is “I don’t think you’re listening to me”, and that is not on your side of the net.
So in this simple example, how do you stay on your side of the net. Well, why are the two things you know if you’re the listener, well you know the behavior, so describe it: “When I’m talking to you and you’re scrolling on your phone, and you don’t make eye contact with me and give a sign the you hear me…” that’s the behavior, you’ve described what you’re seeing or experiencing. The second thing you know is the impact of that behavior on you: “I feel ignored”, “I don’t feel heard”, “I don’t feel as if you think this issue is important”, something like that. Now you’ve sent a beautiful volley from your side of the net over to the other side of the net and hopefully have begun a constructive and productive conversation.
I know for me staying on my side of the net really helps, and thinking about this analogy, this tennis idea, is easy. When I’m I the middle of a conversion I can ask myself quickly “am I on my side of the net here? And if I’m not, why? What do I need to change?” I hope this helps you as well both in difficult conversion and in everyday conversations, you can practice!