Group Standards for Discussion
Here are a couple of thoughts about AMT (avoiding MasterTalk) and PV (PreValidating). I started talking to my men’s group about how they communicate without Mirroring. As you may know, I use the image that Mirroring is a “training tool” which teaches “52” listening and talking skills. The guys only mirror occasionally in the group, but are trying to use it at home with their partner, and so they are reflecting on their problems. I suggested that we build a list of the skills we are always using in the group.
Only one person talks (one sender) at a time, but everyone pays attention and encourages. It looks very much like an application of Attachment Theory. One person is out there, sharing. Everyone else is encouraging and monitoring how the sharing is going – with an eye on safety for all. When the person sharing is finished, wants to shift to listening, the group welcomes that.
Anyone may Pull for more information from the sender. Both types of Pulls (straight and deepening) are used freely.
Straight Pull is a simple, “go on” or “Do you have more to tell?” or “Wow, this is a cool story. Tell all about it.” Something like that. These are used a lot, so that most people stop sharing only when they really want to. Of course the result is that people generally feel they get to finish whatever they want to share.
Deepening Pulls are invitations to go deeper into their story. Some of these deepening Pulls can be pretty direct, and there is often a lot of male humor around them. “Is that working for you?” is a common one. “Why did you do that?” (alternate form I heard this week. “Boy that’s dumb. Why’d you do that?”) “What were you feeling when that happened.” Once apon a time, I created the rule that you don’t do a deepening pull if a straight pull works. Well the guys don’t use or like that rule. I am not sure what to make of that.
Senders have become used to telling their story pretty completely with a lot of focus and “help” from the group.
Five kinds of talk are rather bluntly dismissed or challenged and changed.
Unthinking, avoidant or lazy talk.
i. Someone saying “I don’t know” to some sort of deepening pull. The group just points at the sign on the wall and laughs. Then the sender may wriggle a bit but almost always continues. I think this is a kind of group game. “You didn’t let me get away with an I-don’t-know and I ain’t going to let you get away with one.”
ii. “I feel that” statements are pretty regularly rejected and replace with “think”.
iii. Missing feelings are pulled. E.g. “And how did you feel when she did that?”
iv. Strong emotions are focused upon. E.g. “Looks like that really hurts.” Followed by tears, quiet patience and sometimes a gentle hand on a knee. Rarely does this group physically hold each other – even though they do hug at the end.
MasterTalk. This seems always to be challenged and dismissed. The guys are pretty sensitive to it. Again there is a lot of humor around it. Kind of a “Hey, we all make mistakes, and we won’t let you get away with it.”
i. “We” statements, where someone speaks for a group. A statement “My wife and I, we agree on that” is often challenged with “What makes you think she is really agreeing?” A statement “We made a bargain on that” may be modified to “So you made a bargain and thought that others were going along with you.”
ii. “You” statements, where someone defines another. This is dealt with pretty hard. A lot of the guys have become very sensitive to any “authority” telling them who they are. This is a major project sometimes. One guy used to say, “I was having a nice day at work and then when I got home I found I was bad.” The group, over and over, took this apart and replaced it with “you got home and she told you you were bad. And when she told you that, what did you think or feel.” I think the group was working on codependency here.
iii. Abstract talk about “what is going on”. It seems as if the guys really like hearing opinions, but really dislike vagueness. E.g. “My wife and I have a problem” is interrupted with, “Who thinks there is a problem, you or she or both. What do you think the problem is? How do you think she sees the problem?” Or “There's a problem here” becomes mirrored with “So you think there is a problem here.”
iv. Statements of “facticity” are selectively discarded. As long as the point of the view of the speaker seems clear, then people just listen. But when the referent, the reference to the person holding the point of view becomes unclear, someone speaks up and gets clarity. E.g. “The accountant gave me the report about how much money my mother had embezzled from my company” was interrupted by, “Who used the word embezzled?” The phrase “I'm not allowed to speak” is interrupted by “So your wife doesn't want you to speak. And you submit to her wishes. Did I get that right?”
In-Validating statements. The group seems very tuned into PreValidation. They like it, embrace it as “one of their best ideas.” I think they flaunt it – both joyfully and sometimes angrily. I bet I hear the phrase “All people make sense all the time” repeated in the group half a dozen times in a 3 hour meeting. This seems a subject in which they are all trying to help each other improve. If someone says an invalidating statement, they tend to strongly jump on it. E.g. “I was doing nothing and she exloded out of the blue.” Is responded to by, “Bullshit! What are you leaving out of the story? People don’t blow up out of the blue. Don’t give me that shit! What do you think was going on for her that lead to her anger?”
Questions are also treated specially.
i. A question that is part of a Pull is not bothered with unless it seems too blunt or demanding. If so, we use the “What’s behind that question” technique. Sometime a deepening pull can get kind of invasive. “Why didn't you try that” can get interrupted with “How come you are asking him that? Is that your idea?”
ii. A vague or general question seems to be challenged every time.
1. A question to the group will often be challenged by “What’s behind that question?” “Why is that important to you?” These seem to be deepening Pulls as if the person’s question is just the first phrase of their story.
2. Sometimes a general question to the group will be answered in succession by everyone. “Has anyone had trouble with this?” “What do you think I should do?” Then we will go around the group with everyone contributing their thoughts in succession.
The words Agreement or Obedience
i. When someone refers to disobedience or disagreement, the group seems to step in and normalize both. “I didn’t like what she said.” Draws a response like, “Well, of course. But she isn’t your slave. Come on. ” “I don’t agree with you on that” draws a comment, “Yah. And we don’t agree on anything else either. So what? Tell me what you think.”
ii. A statement of agreement may or may not bring a response. If there is a response it is usually a form of skepticism or doubt. “I agree with you” may evoke “I doubt it.”
It is rare that each speaker does not feel understood about something they shared. The group seems to have developed an appetite for seeing each other’s sense. Thus they consciously or unconsciously tend to validate every speaker – at least about some point. Even a person who just asks a question will be Pulled until the group can see why they asked the question. Sometimes the only visible sign of validation is a “grunt” or an “Oh, I got it.” Yet it seems to work.
Everyone gets pretty much as much time as they want. The management of time seems mostly a group function. I do announce break (half way through), and the end. I’m apt to say, “OK. Let’s take our break” somewhere within 10 minutes of 7:30 (the group meets from 6:00-9:00). I usually note that we have only 5 minutes left around 8:55. We have been known to go over for 15 minutes. Of course, we always have next week. Sometimes a guy walks in and says, “I didn’t get to talk last week. I’ve got something I want to share.” He usually gets to go first.
I typically tell them about my week or my stuff in the first 15 – 30 minutes while some of the stragglers are coming in. I am very much a part of the group, but once they start going I may be silent for long times. Sometime I will slip into what I call the Teaching Mode, teach some point, and then drop back into monitoring or listening mode. They often say that the “best part is when I go to the white board.” Mostly I teach what I see are the various skills of relating. I think it very important to explicitly drop out of the teaching mode when I am done. “Of course, this is just my beliefs. What do you think about it?”
Quiet people are gently Pulled. “I’m wondering what is going on for you, Ted. You seem awfully quiet.” If someone says, “I’m OK.” They laugh and say “Bullshit.” Seems that word is a useful Pulling statement for them. If a person wants to be quiet, that is quite alright, though members of the group will wonder and Pull them again.
Anything that has the sound of being profound frequently does get mirrored. It sounds a little like a spiritual echo. “I’ve never ever done that before.” “Wow, you've never done that before.”
Anger and Temper: The general rule is that the emotion of anger or temper is ok as an indicator of a problem, but never ok as a tool to get someone to do something, to scare someone.
We rarely have anger appearing in the group. I think this is because everyone gets to feel heard and over time has come to believe they can and will get heard. I believe the most common trigger to anger in a group is the fear that your point won't get listened to. One of the guys said, “I get angry quickly, cuz I fear no one will hear my side.” And so, by hearing everyone’s sides, it seems that anger isn’t “very necessary”.
We often hear about anger or temper tantrums in the stories men tell about home life. If the guy says that he was the angry one, someone usually asks him, “About what?” The focus stays on him and his anger, rather than the person he was angry at. I think the group is pretty conscious that anger-in-the-present is usually about something from the past that was stirred up in the present. Thus one of the familiar deepening pulls is, “Who are you really angry at?” There is a bit of friendly pushing toward becoming aware of the early wounding – dad or mom or whoever. In general, blaming others for a person getting angry is squashed completely. “She made me angry.” “Bullshit. She can't. She can try, but she can't make you angry. Why did you really get angry?”
Another common Pull is “Does that anger work for you?” The general belief is that anger used as a tool is just acting like a bully, and gets you nothing but future loneliness. The story of Troubles with a Short Temper is familiar to the group.
If the person in the story who gets angry is someone else, the men focus on what to do about it. The general rule is that no one has to sit around and listen to an angry person. Sitting paralyzed in front of an angry person is useless. Thus the group focuses on using TimeOuts. “What would stop you from using a TimeOut.” Dealing with this kind of anger is a very common topic.
I think a series of exercises could be developed to deal with different kinds of MasterTalk and different kinds of Invalidating sentences. What I am aware of is that the group doesn’t let these statements go for long. They seem to interrupt freely to stop both MasterTalk and Invalidation. I want to think of this more and see how we, PP, might include or exclude this. Interruption is generally not a good idea, but perhaps we need some clear rules when it is ok.
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