Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Metatalk Skill

Talk About How You're Communicating

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/metatalk.htm

Updated 01-07-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in online Lesson 2 - learn communication basics and seven powerful skills to get more daily needs met more often. Progress with this Lesson depends on prior progress on Lesson 1 - free your wise true Self to guide you in calm and stressful times.

      This YouTube clip previews key points in this article:

      Metatalk Communication Skill

          "Meta-writing" is writing about writing. "Meta-singing" is singing about singing. "Metatalk" is talking about communicating - i.e. cooperative discussion between partners about their shared communication process. Use this skill to describe your communication awareness so you can affirm what works, and improve what doesn't.

          Rather than talking about "our fight last night," metatalk focuses on "how we're talking now about our fight last night." Mutually-respectful metatalk is an essential skill for identifying and resolving communication problems. Fluency with this skill can also help you discover and reduce significant psychological wounds (Lesson 1).

          Growing your metatalk skill involves...

    • learning some or all of the communication concepts and terms below, and...

    • using the terms strategically to help identify, discuss, and fix internal and social communication blocks.

Metatalk Concepts and Terms

  • Word and body-language associations and implications

  • Awareness "bubbles"

  • "Be spontaneous!" paradox

  • Black-white (bipolar) thinking - reducing complex topics or situations to only two alternatives, and missing key options

  • Three communication channels

  • Five concurrent communication messages

  • Communication-process mapping

  • Five communication needs and need conflicts

  • Communication pacing (speed of thinking and speaking)

  • Communication sequences (chains of behaviors and reactions)

  • Communication patterns (repeated sequences over time)

  • Communication styles - e.g. placating, blaming, intellectual, or unfocused...

  • Communication outcomes

  • Communication focuses - person/s, topics, timeframe, and inner and mutual processes

  • Seven communication skills

  • Concreteness and clarity vs. vagueness, ambiguity, and generalizing

  • Conflicting opinions, values, and priorities among people and subselves

  • Decoding - computing meanings from someone's perceived behavior

  • Demanding vs. requestring

  • Double (mixed) messages  (signs of inner conflict)

  • Inner and outer distractions

  • Effective communication

  • Emotional "tone" - e.g. serious / "heavy" > playful / humorous / "light"

  • E(motion)-levels (above or below the ears)

  • Empathy levels (low > high)

  • Empathic listening and alternatives, including moralizing, lecturing, blaming, hinting, questioning, preaching, monologing, defocusing, changing the subject, whining, intellectualizing, explaining, withdrawing, numbing, proclaiming, threatening, demanding,.

  • Individual and shared emotions and feelings

  • Eye-contact focus and patterns

  • False self

  • Flat (emotionless, "low affect") speech;

  • Face and body (nonverbal) language

  • Flooding (a partner giving too many ideas, words, and messages at once)

  • Positive or negative framing of communication content

  • Frustration (vs. anger)

  • Fuzzy (vague) thinking

  • Hearing and hearing checks

  • Logical (vs. organic) thinking); intellectualizing

  • Mental images and senses

  • Implied messages

  • Using metaphors, parables, and stories to convey complex meanings

  • Mumbling (unclear speech)

  • interruptions and reflections

  • Levels of meaning (e.g. conscious and unconscious, overt or implied, and individual and group)

  • Metatalk and meta-comments - factual observations about your communication process

  • Mind reading (assuming)

  • Mirroring (empathic listening)

  • Mind-racing or churning

  • Surface and primary needs

  • Outcome expectations - (will I or we communicate effectively here?)

  • Pleading (1-down attitude) vs. requesting (mutual respect) vs. demanding (1-up)

  • Pressure of speech - excessively loud, fast, intense speaking and gesturing with high E-level and a solo awareness bubble. See Flooding

  • Persecutor - Victim - Rescuer relationship triangles

  • Personality subselves  ("parts")

  • Problem (need) level - level 1 (surface) to level 2 (intermediate) to levels 3 or 4 (primary)

  • Problem-solving  (process and skill)

  • Process awareness  (low > high)

  • Rambling (no clear focus)

  • Reframing

  • Excessive verbal repetitions

  • R(espect)-messages (1-up, 1-down, or  "=/=")

  • Sarcasm, cynicism, pessimism

  • Self talk ("thinking") - internal dialogs,   conflicts, sequences, and patterns among personality subselves

  • Submission > assertion > aggression

  • Thinking / feeling balance in a person, communication sequence, or relationship

  • True Self (capital "S")

  • Trust level (low > high)

  • Values conflicts vs. concrete conflicts

  • Voice dynamics (tone, pitch, accent, rhythm, pace, inflection, volume, affect, ...)

      Recall - this is an illustrative list of terms and phrases that can help you metatalk - discuss tour communication process with a partner. Can you imagine being fluent in all these terms? Learning these and when to use them can help you identify communication strengths and blocks with adults and older kids.

      Thinking and communication are learned skills, shaped over decades by emotions, perceptions, assumptions, and unconscious impulses and associations as well as logic. They are the main skills we depend on to get our personal and social needs met, yet most people never study them! Have you?

      Just as skilled tradespeople develop their own terms, we communication artists need to do the same (above). Most of us receive no training in these communication factors, though we need to use them every day. The good news: you can learn to use these factors any time!

       Reality check: could you teach someone clearly (say a beloved child in your life...) what each of these ~60 concepts means now? Could your family adults do that? Are your kids learning these well enough? What if you or they don't?

      The high majority of my 1,000+ therapy clients and students have been unaware of most of these communication terms, so they had consistent trouble resolving personal and social conflicts. Unawareness and ignorance (lack of knowledge) are often a major contributor to relationship stress and ineffective childcare.

      Learning these communication concepts and using them with a mutual respect attitude can greatly improve your communication productivity and effectiveness if your true Self steadily guides your other busy subselves. 

      Notice your self talk now... 

  What Does Metatalk Sound Like?

       Recall: metatalk is talking cooperatively about your communication process. Each of us develops our own metatalk style and vocabulary, but the theme remains constant: clear, objective descriptions of our communication observations.

      Imagine that you’re talking with someone who repeatedly interrupts you. You notice this because  you've learned to maintain a two-person awareness bubble in important discussions. You note that you're feeling disrespected, hurt, unheard, and increasingly irritated and frustrated. You then consciously decide to make a firm, respectful meta-comment, like …

    "Chris, I notice that pretty often you start to talk before I'm finished. I'm not feeling heard by you, and I'm starting to get irritated and frustrated."

      You could stop there, or you might add...

    "Were you aware of doing that?"; or … "I'd like you to let me finish saying my thoughts." The latter is an assertion.

       Another scenario: your communication partner laughs, and says: "I just had the most unbelievable fight with my sister. It was awful!" You feel confused, and say (a metacomment):

    "I just got a double message from you, Burt, and I'm confused. Your words were: 'the fight was awful', but you chuckled and smiled."

       Notice how this message would change if your voice tone was blameful [implied R(espect)-message: "I’m 1-up"] or apologetic (implied R-message: "I’m 1-down"). Process-awareness and metatalking skills are vital, because they allow identifying and resolving interpersonal communication problems and strengthening social relationships.

 Reality Check

  • Can you clearly define (a) effective communication; (b) awareness skill,and (c) metatalk?

  • See how many of the communication concepts above you can clearly describe to another person. The more of them partners understand, the better able you'll be to spot and resolve communication blocks and get more needs met.

  • Once you understand these concepts, practice becoming nonjudgmentally aware of them among (a) your busy subselves and (b) the adults and kids in your life.


      This article is one of a series introducing communication basics and seven powerful, learnable skills. The article introduces the skill of metatalk - talking clearly and cooperatively with a partner about your process-awareness observations - i.e. about how you communicate.

      This skill requires (a) your Self to guide your personality, (b) a steady two-person awareness bubble,  (c) a genuine mutual-respect attitude, and (d) learning to use a special vocabulary of common communication dynamics (above).

      Use these requisites and the related six skills to identify significant communication problems and reduce them together as teammates, not opponents!

      The unique guidebook Satisfactions (Xlibris.com, 2nd ed., 2010) integrates the key Lesson-1 and Lesson-2 Web articles and resources in this nonprofit Web site, and provides many practical resources. 

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not - what do you need? Who's answering this question - your true Self or ''someone else''?

 This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful    

Next - review these met5atalk guidelines and examples

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