Imago Dialogue

Using the Imago Dialogue greatly reduces the effect of ‘triggers’ – allowing the listener time to effectively ‘manage’ their response rather than to merely ‘react’. It is in such calm and reasoned communication that parties to a relationship often re-discover the value they saw in their relationship initially.

Imago Dialogue uses a very structured way of working because we want this to be a safe place for you. We want to slow down your conversation so that it will feel safer talking with each other. We will be coaching the two of you to talk together about the issues that you have, dialoguing with each other and we will facilitate that process.

We find – and years of research and experience support this – that taking this seemingly ‘unnatural’ approach to communication helps each party prevent its descent into argument. Consequently, each party feels heard, and ‘feels’ the other party’s experience of the message they receive.

A good example of the Imago Dialogue (or ‘Safe Conversation’ as it is also referred to) is demonstrated by its creators Harville Hendricks PhD and Helen La Kelly Hunt PhD. It can be found here below

Or you can view it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfbfHtoHqiE (if your browser doesn’t show an image in the block above this one)

Want to talk with us about it? Yes!

If you prefer to read – read on…

Getting Started:  The Basic Ground Rules

In the Imago Dialogue both parties agree to this simple rule: to talk one person at-a-time.  Think of it as a bit like using a two-way radio!

This means a person is speaking, we call it “sending”, whilst the other is listening, or “receiving”.  

The Receiver will be responsible for the three main steps of Dialogue.

The three steps are:
Mirroring
Validation
Empathy

Let’s look at them one at a time – where ‘you’ are the Listener. 

STEP ONE: MIRROR

In the Mirroring step, when the Sender pauses, or perhaps when you have asked them to pause, you simply repeat back everything you heard them say.  You may paraphrase, but you must mirror without analysing, critiquing, or modifying the essence of what they’ve said. You must also avoid responding or reacting. 

If the Sender appears to run out of things to say, ask “Is there more?”  or “Tell me more.”

STEP TWO: VALIDATE

Once the Sender says “there is no more”, the Receiver will attempt to validate what the Sender has said, by letting the Sender know whether what they’ve been saying made logical sense to the Receiver.  If it does not, the Receiver will simply share what DOES make sense. The Receiver will then ask the Sender to say more about the parts that do not yet make sense.

To Validate, the Receiver might say:  “You make sense to me because…”  or “That makes sense, I can see where…”

In the event the Receiver has yet to see the sense the Sender is trying to make, they may ask for clarification:  “This part (X) makes sense, but help me understand…”   or “can you say more about…?”

Once the Receiver has the agreement of the Sender that ‘what was heard was what was sent’ – or in simple terms the Sender feels ‘heard’ – we move to the next step.

STEP THREE: EMPATHIZE

In the final step, Empathy, the Receiver takes a guess as to what they imagine the Sender might be feeling in regard to what they’ve been saying.  If the Sender has already said how they feel, then the Receiver can simply reflect this back once more.  

If, however, the Receiver can think of an additional way their partner might be feeling, this is where they can add that.

When sending empathy, it is fine to say something such as:  “I can imagine you feel …(like you’re the only one working on our relationship).” 

However, it’s important to know that once the word “like” comes into play, what’s being expressed is a thought, not a feeling.  We have come to distinguish the difference between a thought and a feeling thus: a feeling can generally be described in one or two words:  e.g., happy, excited, safe, cared-for, hurt, frustrated, scared. As a rough guide if it’s more than one word, it is likely a thought. If it is more than two words, it’s definitely a thought!

Try to include some “feeling” words if you can, in this Empathy step.  

Doing so, especially when you are lucky enough to hit the proverbial ‘nail on the head,’ will often bring a look of recognition and joy to your partner’s face 

How to Empathize:  “I can imagine you might be feeling…”  (Receiver to try your best guess)

And then ask “Is that how you feel?”                                  

Now that the Sender has said all they have to say and the Receiver has mirrored, validated and empathized, the whole process reverses.  The Receiver now gets their turn to respond with whatever came up for them while the first partner was sending and the Sender shifts into being the Receiver who then does the mirroring, etc. 

Note;  When partners trade places, the new Sender must not start a new topic, rather she/he responds to what the first Sender said. This ensures it is a true ‘Dialogue’ and not two monologues or rants – or a ‘structured argument’ which is what we want to avoid!

Ready to talk with us about it? Yes!