Getting the Not-so-verbal Person Talking

We have no magic potion to transform a quiet partner into an outgoing, warmhearted talk machine. But there are a few techniques to which a cooperative partner may respond.

Skillful Questioning

Questions can either open the door for discussion or slam it, depending on the type of question asked and how it is asked. Golden opportunities to communicate are frequently lost because we do not know how to ask questions skillfully.

Why questions are accusatory. Only use why questions when specific information is needed, not when attempting to get a less-verbal person to open up. Instead, try what questions.

Direct Questioning

Asking direct questions about specific topics may also help by making it easier for a less-verbal person to open up. Rather than saying, “What happened at work today?” and hearing, “The same old rat race,” try, “Teel me bout the most interesting thing that happened at work this week.” Rather than, “you never tell me anything about your childhood.”  Try, “I’d be interested in hearing something about your childhood. Tell me about the most fun birthday you can remember.” Rather than, “You never tell me how you feel about your work,” try, “I know very little about your job. I’d like to hear what you enjoy most about your work.”

Specific requests for information relive the pressure on a less-communicative person to formulate original replies. Some questions are easier than others. Begin with the easy ones and move on to the more difficult ones.

Sentence Starters

A person can be helped to express feelings more adeptly through sentence starters. If you sense something is bothering your partner and he or she is having difficulty talking about it, you could help your partner express himself or herself through the following examples:

–         Something hat is bothering me right now that I’m having difficulty talking about is…

–         Something that really makes me angry is…

–         I really get upset when you…

It doesn’t matter whatever your partner’s responses to these sentence starters make sense, contradict one another, or are invalid from your point of view. The point is to get your partner talking, not to evaluate the rightness or wrongness of the response.

Once your partner has gone this far, his or her thoughts and feelings can be expanded by continuing to respond to such open-ended statements as these:

–         By telling you these I have become aware that…

–         Talking about this makes me wonder if…

–         Sharing this with you makes it obvious that…

Now it is your turn to respond. Open-ended sharing isn’t complete until you respond with empathy to what has been said:

–         Through listening to you I have heard you say that…

–          I heard you say today that one thing you would like from me is…

–         Through listening to your right now it has become obvious to me that…

Open-ended sharing will break down in a hurry when acceptance is missing. If a woman should get her husband talking about his job and he says, “It is dead-end street and I’m going to quit,” and she screams, “You can’t! What about me and the kids?” We’ll starve and lose the house,” he’ll probably never open up again. You don’t have to agree with a partner’s feeling but you can accept how he is feeling today.

Provide Encouragement

Once your partner has opened up and shared with you, let him know how much it means for you to share a part of his world. Even if it wasn’t the intensity of intimacy you dreamed of, encouragement will pave the way for more sharing and spur his willingness to loosen up in the future. You might also ask if there is anything you can do to make sharing easier for him. Give your partner a hug, a pat on the hand, or a kiss, and thank him for sharing. This provides an incentive to share again.

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3 responses

  1. I can’t seem to get my mate to really express his feelings. I am going to try some of these suggestions found here.

    November 20, 2009 at 9:48 pm

  2. That was intriguing . I love your style that you put into your post . Please do move forward with more like this.

    April 12, 2010 at 9:43 pm

  3. Well, I don’t know if that’s going to work for me, but definitely worked for you! 🙂 Excellent post!

    July 11, 2010 at 4:11 am

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