Last week I touched upon the concept of Harville Hendrix’s ‘Imago Dialogue Process’ as a tool for discussing difficult material in either a personal or professional relationship. This week I want to give you an example of how this simple, 3-step process might go down in a ‘typical’ situation.
Lets say 'BILL' and 'LAURA' have an ongoing issue with the toilet seat. She wants it down; he leaves it up. One morning Laura says to Bill, “Can you stop leaving the toilet seat up? It’s so rude!” Bill says back to her, “You have two hands. Why can’t you just put it down instead of having to complain about it? I never complain to you about having to lift it up.”
This simple exchange sounds funny but in actuality can lead to instantaneous disconnection and resentment. Whenever someone else’s experience provokes a contrasting opinion in us, it’s often very difficult to stop ourselves from reacting and just stand back and witness what’s being shared without trying to change it, blame it, shame it or convince the other person to come around to our own (opposite) point of view.
The task of the dialogue is that it requires us to actively listen to another person’s experience without taking it personally. Instead, our job is to stay present to what he or she is saying (even as inaccurate as it may sound), in order to understand why the person feels that way without taking it personally. It doesn't mean we agree that they are right and we are wrong, it just means we are choosing to be curious explorers instead of raging conquerors.
This is a breakdown of the 3-step Imago Dialogue Process. It’s meant to be reciprocal; as in each person takes a turn:
Step 1: Mirroring -- Reflecting back to the other person what you heard them say in order to make sure you got it right.
Step 2: Validating – Letting the other person know that what they shared makes sense to you from their point of view.
Step 3: Empathizing – Imagining how it would feel if you were in the other person’s shoes and communicating that to them.
Here’s how this toilet seat fight might go down if ‘Laura’ and ‘Bill’ used the Imago Dialogue Process:
Laura: Can you stop leaving the seat up? It’s so rude!
Bill: It’s rude, huh? Sounds like you’re really pissed off about it. Want to say more?
Laura: Yeah, it really bothers me. I’m always worried I’m going to fall in because you keep randomly leaving the seat up and never stop to consider how much smaller I am than you.
Bill: So it bothers you because you’re actually worried that you might fall into the toilet if I leave the seat up because I never stop to consider how much smaller you are than me.
Bill: Is there more about that?
Laura: Just that I wish you would consider me more.
Bill: You wish I would consider you more about this or other things?
Laura: About this. I mean you consider all the time, but when it comes to stuff like the toilet seat, I wish you’d think of me too and not just yourself.
Bill: So you acknowledge that I consider you a lot, but when it comes to stuff like the toilet seat being left up, you wish I’d consider you more than just myself?
Laura: Not more than just yourself. Equal to yourself.
Bill: Equal to myself, not more than myself. Well, it makes sense that if you’re afraid of falling into the toilet when I don’t remember to put the seat down. If I were you I'd feel pissed at me.
Laura: Yup. You got it.
Bill: I might even feel unloved in a weird way. And I would never want you to feel like I don’t love you.
Laura: Thank you. That’s so sweet, babe.
Bill: Cool. So do you feel like I got it?
Laura: Yeah. Thanks, honey.
Bill: Awesome. Do you mind if I have a turn?
Laura: Go for it.
Bill: It kinda sucks to feel like I do all these nice things for you and the one time I don’t remember to put the toilet seat down, I'm a bad guy.
Laura: Let me see if I got that. So it kinda sucks to feel like you do so many nice things for me but the one time you don’t remember to put the toilet seat down, I see you as a bad guy.
Bill: Yeah. But now I understand that you’re actually worried about falling into the toilet. So that part makes sense to me.
Laura: So the part about me being afraid of falling in makes sense to you.
Bill: Yes. And I don’t want to do anything that could hurt or scare you, but I also don’t want to feel attacked if I make a mistake. A gentle reminder will do.
Laura: So you want me to know that you don’t want to do anything that could hurt or scare me but you also don’t want to feel attacked if you make a mistake. A gentle reminder will do. Is that it?
Bill: Yes. Does that make sense to you?
Laura: It makes perfect sense. I can see how it feels unfair when I get upset with you for not putting the toilet seat down, but at the same time you understand that I am smaller than you and don’t want to fall in so it’s something you are willing to respect. But if you make a mistake and forget one day, you would like a gentle reminder instead of a reaction from me that makes you feel attacked. Did I get it?
Bill: You did.
Laura: Well if I were you I’d be hurt and frustrated that my girl only noticed the things I did wrong and not the things I did right. I don’t want you to feel like I only criticize without equally appreciating you. I will try to be better about making a request without attacking you in the process. How does that feel?
Laura: May I clarify one thing?
Laura: What I really want is equal consideration, not more consideration. You deserve just as much consideration as I do.
Bill: Thanks babe.
(Now imagine a big smooch and so on and so forth…)