from the Human Awareness Institute’s “Methodology of Clear Communication”
by Chas (Chip) August
Frequently in our various social relationships we find ourselves hurt or upset by someone’s words or behavior and yet choosing not to tell the person about it. We decide to wait for a “better” time, or we are afraid of creating further upset, or we tell ourselves it really doesn’t matter. As a result of this unspoken feeling we find ourselves a little more guarded around the person who hurt us. Or, perhaps, we just forget about it…until it happens again.
Each of these unspoken upsets is like a brick in a wall between us. Very quickly that wall begins to interfere with feeling connected with or close to this person. Often we develop a habit of not speaking these feelings. So the wall gets thicker and thicker. Sometimes it feels like there is a pressure built up from not speaking that results in us eventually “exploding” at the person or people we most want intimacy with. We dredge up pains and aches from years before and leave the listener feeling hopeless that we can ever repair such a long list of woes.
At the Human Awareness Institute we encourage people to talk about their feelings. We teach people that our friends and lovers aren’t telepathic, they don’t know what we’re feeling until we tell them. And we strongly encourage behaviors that have people feel more connected to each other, more intimate. One simple tool we teach is called “Clearing Withholds”.
A “withhold” is a general term for something you have thought, but haven’t spoken, either positive or negative. However, in HAI, the term “withhold” usually refers to a negative judgment you are having, or a pain you experienced, or an upset you have felt but not communicated. We use the term “stroke” to refer to a positive judgment you are experiencing.
Clearing “Negative” Withholds
Holding onto a negative withhold can stand in the way of your being open and connected with another person – something that may separate you from them. It may be an unspoken feeling, an apology, a noticing you’ve had in relation to someone, a judgment that you’ve been carrying that you wish to take responsibility for or to resolve, a frustration you are having, a desire to make amends, or some pain, hurt, anger, or disappointment that you haven’t shared. The object of clear communication is to remove blocks or walls between people and to return to a state of connection.
The purpose of clearing a “negative” withhold is not to get the other person to change his/her behavior, but to be heard and then, hopefully, to join. Once we feel heard, we often find it easier to drop our barriers or defensiveness with another. When listening to someone’s withhold it is important to remember that the speaker is telling you about their feelings and experience with the intention to feel closer to you.
Intention: One of the most important aspects of clearing withholds is your intention. If your intention is to punish or to make wrong, that’s not the time to clear a withhold. First, find the place in you that wants to join with the other person. If you find your desire to re- establish connection with that person and you are willing to take responsibility for your part in the issue, then you usually have a formula for success. You might consider using clearing a withhold as a doorway into yourself, to notice why you are creating your unpleasant experience. This is otherwise referred to as your mirror or shadow.
Dumping: If you notice your motive to communicate a withhold is actually to: (1) make him/her wrong, (2) have them change (3) punish in some way, (4) vent your anger, (5) manipulate, or (6) guilt trip, then your communication will very likely turn into what is known as a “dump” and is usually not constructive to either party. We suggest you pause, perhaps talk to an uninvolved third party, and wait until the desire to “dump” passes before attempting to clear your withhold.
Permission: In every case of wanting to clear a withhold, it is very important that you start by asking if they are prepared to hear you. The suggested form is: “I have a withhold to clear with you, are you willing to hear it?” Wait for, and honor, their reply before continuing. If they answer “No,” you can ask if they would be willing to hear it at a later time, i.e., negotiate a time. If they answer “Yes” express your truth and feelings, using “I statements,” as suggested below. Remember that the intention is to clear. Don’t let the terminology get in your way. If you get confused, simply say: “I have something to clear with you, are you willing to hear it?” And then share.
Format: “When I perceived you to…(Add the specific action, something you saw, heard or experienced), I felt… (Add the way you felt – e.g., angry frustrated, hurt, scared, etc.).
Response: The response by the listener is usually some form of “Thank you.” (The exception is in the case of a paranoia, see below.) Please do not respond to a withhold that is shared with an explanation or justification, as this turns your attention away from the speaker’s pain or upset and instead focuses on your reaction. It is preferred that you say, “Thank you” or “Thank you, you’re right” or “Thank you, I can see what you’re saying.” By something like this, you are honoring both the courage of the person to engage with you, as well as their desire to become closer to you. The “thank you” is to acknowledge their experience, without getting into debate, justification, defense, or argument. It is simply about receiving them. By doing this you are not agreeing or disagreeing, necessarily, you are listening with compassion to another person’s experience.
A paranoia is an unverified fantasy, thought, fear, hunch or belief. Sometimes a paranoia is a “reality check” which would help you stop worrying or making up stories, if you are doing that. It’s usually a relief to hear another person’s truth. A paranoia usually requires a response form the receiver.
Permission: “I have a paranoia (or fantasy), are you willing to hear it?” Wait for, and honor, their reply before continuing. If they answer “No,” you can ask if they would be willing to hear it at a later time, i.e., negotiate a time. If they answer “Yes” express your truth and feelings, using “I statements,” as suggested below
Format: “I have a paranoia that you…(speak your paranoia)” “Is there any truth to this?”
Response: The response by the listener is to first of all pause and take a breath and to sincerely look inside to see if there is any grain of truth in what the speaker has said. Often, the speaker is picking up on something that the listener may or may not have been aware of. The exact content may not be the same as what the speaker has been fantasizing, but the listener may find out some related reason that the speaker has the paranoia. When receiving a paranoia, listen for any “grain of truth” in the paranoia, and if there is any, respond to it honestly. Please don’t try to placate the other person or make them feel better by rushing to say “No, that’s not true”. Pause, breathe, look for your truth and speak it with compassion. If there is no truth to the paranoia, the response is: “I can’t find any truth to your paranoia right now, but if I do later I’ll let you know.”
Speaking appreciations or Strokes
An appreciation or stroke is a supportive acknowledgement or compliment you have for someone. These are also known as “positive withholds.” To share an appreciation, use this format:
Permission: Always ask permission to share an appreciation: “I have an appreciation (or stroke) for you, are you willing to hear it?” Wait for, and honor, their reply before continuing. If they answer “No,” you can ask if they would be willing to hear it at a later time, i.e., negotiate a time. If they answer “Yes” express your truth and feelings, using “I statements,” as suggested below.
Format: “I appreciate…(whatever it is you are appreciating about the other person – perhaps an action they took or the way you felt after interacting with them or how you saw them with someone else or a quality you see in them that you admire.) Share your appreciation as generously as possible. Generous means to give details of what happened and why you feel the way you do. It also means speaking with as much heart and feeling as you can when sharing, i.e., transmit the feeling quality not just sharing from your head.
Response: The first thing the receiver of an appreciation can do is to take a breath and let the appreciation in, let yourself be affected by what has just been said. Then respond with a “Thank-you.” It’s easy to dismiss the appreciation by saying a perfunctory “Thank-you,” rather than really letting it in. So let your heart open to really receive the energy of what’s being felt as well as the meaning of the words.