Communication Skills using the Awareness Wheel
I remember reading somewhere that the average person has about 300 thoughts per minute, along with the corresponding emotions, expectations, and conclusions. I don’t know how they came up with 300, but lets assume it’s true – That’s a lot of stuff going on! If you want to be clear and congruent in your communications, its essential that you slow this process down. You have to learn how to check in with yourself.
One of the tools I use with my clients in therapy is (aptly called) The Awareness Wheel. Once mastered, it helps the user understand their experiences (awareness), and, if desired, communicate clearly to someone else.
Each experience can be broken down into the following five categories:
Sensing or the Facts– what you have seen or heard. They are behavioral descriptions, as if seen from a video camera, without evaluation or ascribing meaning.
Thinking – what you tell yourself the facts mean. They are the interpretations, beliefs, conclusions, or stories you tell yourself about what is going on.
Feelings or Emotions – Keep it simple: Sad, mad, glad or afraid.
Wants or intentions – What you think will fix the problem.
Doing or Actions – What you actually do.
Becoming a better communicator
• Perception Check
“This is my guess, am I accurate? ” Sometimes it is a good idea to test, clarify and alter your interpretations by moving back and forth between the sensory data and your interpretations.
A common problem in relationships is the result of confusing FACTS with thoughts/interpretations about what is happening. Our interpretations generate emotions, and we can be caught up in our anger or hurt because our assumptions about what’s going on is different than our partners. The model helps you to clarify interpretations and emotions by going back to the original sensory data (what you saw or heard) and checking each other’s interpretations. You may or may not get to agreement on the sensory data or the interpretations, but it’s helpful to know what each of you is thinking and perceiving.
• Use Responsible “I” Statements
Speaking as though we know the “other’s” intentions, feelings, or thoughts is offensive. By using “I” statements, we show that we are speaking responsibly about something we should be an authority about – ourselves! (See below)
•Reflective Listening or “Mirroring”
Reflective listening consists of slowing the conversation down, while assuring your focus is on being a good listener and not your defense! After a sentence or two, you, the Listener, repeat back, in your own words, what you think your partner is saying. You then ask if you heard them accurately and completely. You keep trying this until your partner says, “Yes, I feel understood.” Then you switch, and you say a few sentences to your partner, and they repeat what they heard back to you.
Exercises using the Awareness Wheel
1. Get to know yourself. Journal regularly about your experiences using the Awareness Wheel. Learn the difference between FACTS (what you have seen or heard); THOUGHTS (interpretations/ stories I tell myself about the Facts)); EMOTIONS (body-feelings – Happy Sad Mad Afraid); WANTS (goals or intentions – what you think will fix the problem) and the ACTION taken. Keep in simple.
2. Do your Actions reflect your Wants? Reviewing one of your written Awareness Wheels, notice if your ACTIONS matched what you said you wanted. If not, what got in the way of you acting in a way that may have gotten you what you wanted? Hint: Other beliefs or wants? Write a few ideas of other possible ways you could have handled it (for the future).
3. Practice expressing your Awareness Wheel, through writing first, to another person. Remember to use responsible “I” statements. Ask yourself: *** “How can I say this in a way that the OTHER person is most likely to hear me?”***
Possible sentence structures:
“When _(Facts)_ I thought _(Thought/Belief)_, and I felt (Emotion) . What I’d like is (Request/Want). What do you think?” (invites sharing)
Example : “When you didn’t come home at 6pm (Fact), I thought you were possibly hurt or at least disrespectful of our plans (Thoughts/Beliefs), and I felt scared and then mad (Feelings). What I’d like is to trust that you will stick to our agreements so I don’t worry so much (Request/Wants). What do you think?
“I feel _(Emotion) when you _(Facts)_ because _(Thought/Belief) _, and I want _(Request/Want)_. Does that make sense?”
Example: “I feel scared (Emotion) when you yell at me (Fact) because it seems aggressive to me, and I’m not sure what will happen next (Thoughts/Beliefs). I want you to lower your voice please (Want/Request). Does that make sense?”
Practice, Practice, Practice!… Now you can say anything!