Anger Management

Couples Counseling

Children & Adolescents


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The Imago Intentional Dialogue

Imago Intentional Dialogue – Basic Concepts and Explanation of Skills” page 2

Don’t interrupt—this is both a sender and receiver skill. When you are listening to either the sender’s message or a mirrored statement, do not interrupt. Do not give suggestions, directions, or coach your partner by nodding your head, or try to give a correction. Just listen.

Skills for Senders

Initiates—the sender initiates a dialogue. Request a dialogue by saying, “I’d like to have a dialogue; is now ok?” If your partner says now is not ok ask to set a time to do it within the next twenty-four hours. The dialogue belongs to you and you are completely in charge of where the conversation goes.

State topic in one sentence—introduce your concern as a title, in one sentence only. Keep it short and to the point. Use the sentence stem:  “I want to talk to you about…, is now ok? For example, I want to talk to you about how we argue, is now ok?”

Stay on one topic only—as the sender, talk about one problem at a time only and stay focused on just the one issue. Making your partner listen to more than one problem at a time can make your partner feel overwhelmed and attacked.

Talk about yourself—as much as possible when talking about a problem, talk about yourself in the situation rather than focusing directly on your partner. Instead of finger pointing, talk about your experience in the problem and how it affected you. For example, “I feel intensely afraid and panicky when we’re in the car and you tailgate.” Instead of, “You make me intensely afraid and panicky when you drive and tailgate with me in the car.” As a rule, avoid using “you messages.” Instead use “I messages.”  For example, “when that happens I feel…”or “when you did that I felt…” rather than saying, “you make me feel…”

Don’t flood—because your partner’s job is to accurately mirror back to you your words, it can be difficult to do that if your message is too long. When you have a lot to say, speak one or two sentences of your thoughts and then allow your partner to mirror your words and check for accuracy. Following that, give another two sentences and allow your partner to mirror again. Repeat doing this until you have finished expressing your full thought. Pay attention to keeping your messages in small packets so your partner can more easily and accurately mirror them back to you.

Sending a correction—after you have listened to your partner’s mirrored response, he or she will ask you if the mirror was accurate. If it was accurate say “yes.” If it was not accurate then say “No, what I needed to hear you say is…” or, “What was missing was…” Sometimes a correction needs to be sent more than once. Be patient with your partner. Keep in mind that you are working together to foster empathy. Be intentional about being patient. Also you may need to send a correction when your partner uses the summarizing skill at the close of the dialogue.

Be non-judgmental—as you communicate in a dialogue do not criticize, belittle, or make expressions of anger. When you enter into a dialogue you should have one purpose only, and that purpose is healing. Never use the dialogue to grind an axe or to vent anger. Use both your verbal and non-verbal behaviors to remain non-judgmental.

Talk about primary feelings only—the deepest level of empathy focuses on feelings. Anger is a secondary emotion. That means it is always preceded by other underlying emotions, which are called primary emotions. And these are the feelings and emotions that you should focus on communicating. For example, you are angry because your spouse criticized you in front of company. Anger is the secondary emotion, but your anger was prompted by a primary emotion, such as humiliation or embarrassment. During an intentional dialogue your work is to communicate your underlying primary emotions and not your anger. In fact, that is part of what it means to be intentional. And, communicating these underlying emotions is the most therapeutic part of the dialogue process. Keep in mind that expressions of anger in a dialogue are never helpful and never necessary. Expressing anger is felt by your partner as both judgmental and an attack. Pay attention to not using the following words: frustrated, annoyed, disappointed, and upset. These four words are anger words. They may not be as intense as words like pissed, aggravated, and mad, but they do communicate a degree of anger. Your therapist will help you to talk about your primary emotions.

Don’t ask questions—an intentional dialogue is not an interview or investigation, and for this reason asking questions corrodes the expression of empathy that the dialogue is designed to foster. Asking questions is judgmental and will make your partner feel investigated and blamed. Asking questions makes the dialogue feel unsafe for your partner. As the sender, think of what you are doing as giving a report. Report making does not involve questions.

Be specific—when you want to talk about a problem in a dialogue be specific. Do not generalize. The following are examples of generalizations that should not be used in a dialogue: “I want to talk to you about your attitude.” “I want to talk to you about how you treat the children.” “I want to talk to you about our lack of intimacy.” To be specific, talk about a real example of the problem that you witnessed or experienced. For example, “I want to talk to you about the things you said to me on Sunday night.” “I want to talk to you about how you reacted to the kid’s behavior this morning.” I want to talk to you about last night when I wanted to have sex with you.” Also, do not say things like: “You always…” or “You never…” These types of comments are generalizations and they cause a breakdown in communication because they feel judgmental.

Get to the point—when sending try not to get bogged down explaining too many background details concerning your issue or problem. When you begin a dialogue your first sentence stem that you complete is: “What I’m concerned about is…” Try to complete this sentence stem in two or three sentences only. Think about what is the point you are trying to make and try to communicate it without giving a whole lot of background details.

Skills for Receivers

Respecting the Request—this is more of an attitude than a skill. When doing dialogues at home, you should be committed to respecting any request your partner makes to have an intentional dialogue. If you feel you are not available when the request is made, then be committed to doing a dialogue within twenty-four hours of when the request was made. In general, be committed to doing it as soon as possible.

Attending—to be intentional also means that you are deliberate to demonstrate that you are both interested in listening and that you care. This is done using good attending skills, such as sitting up straight, squarely facing your partner, and maintaining good eye contact. It also involves focused listening, meaning listening without being distracted by thinking about your point of view or how you would like to argue your position. Just listen intently so you can accurately state back what was spoken. Make your partner really sense your full attention. [continued...]