Description: (Excerpts taken from a paper written for the Xenos Journal by Amy McCallum). This information comes from the book, Couple Communication 1: Talking Together by Sherod Miller, Phyllis Miller, Elam W. Nunnally, Daniel B. Wackman (1991).
Any relationship between two people will involve issues. An issue can be defined by anything which concerns one or both people. An example of an issue might be, “Spending more time together.” Issues are not the same as problems. A problem is defined as a situation that represents a difficulty. But, issues can become problems depending on how we react or handle a given situation. If an issue is not handled effectively on a reoccurring basis (i.e. the issue keeps cropping up) then the issue has become a problem. Or, “an issue becomes a problem when it is not identified, or there is a refusal to deal with it.” (p. 15). So in the above issue, it might become a problem if the couple cannot find convenient time together.
The ability to effectively communicate about our issues is not always an easy task. Therefore, in order to eliminate some of the barriers to communication, the Awareness Wheel can be a very helpful tool. The Awareness Wheel helps us get in touch with our own experience on an issue, as well as equip us to communicate our thoughts more effectively.
Awareness Wheel Dimensions
The Awareness Wheel includes five different dimensions: Sensations, Interpretations, feelings, Intentions, and Actions. The following is a brief summary of each dimension.
Sensations are the outside information that comes through your five senses—touch, sight, taste, sound, smell. “Your senses report raw data. They do the same job that a good reporter does—observe and describe.” (P. 28). The basis for your interpretations lies in the sensation dimension of the Awareness Wheel. We interpret situations based on what we hear, see, etc. For instance, “Because I heard you speak loudly to me, I interpreted that you were angry with me.” Often times people confuse their interpretations with their sensations. For example, using “You look happy” as a sensation, rather than “I see you smiling.” It is important to make the distinction between sensations and interpretations in our communication because many times we state our interpretations as though they were facts. Rather, we need to realize that our interpretations are merely how we interpret the facts (i.e. sensations.)
“Interpretations are all the different kinds of meanings you make in your head to help you understand yourself, other people and situations” (p. 26). “A key point to remember about interpretations is that they are fed by your own unique past, presents and anticipated future experiences. The same goes for your partner. This explains why you and your partner can take the same situation and come up with two very different interpretations” (p. 27). For example, a couple just received a notice that they had bounced a check. One partner might say, “We’re in a financial crisis!” The other might conclude, “We made an error, no big deal!” How we view other people, situations and ourselves is usually a product of previous experiences. Therefore, it is important to understand our differences in experiences and not be dogmatic about our interpretations.
“Feelings are the spontaneous, emotional responses you have in a situation” (p. 29). IT is important tot note that feelings can be conflicting. For instance, your spouse comes home late and you feel both angry and relieved. Another important element about feelings is that some people have a harder time identifying and expressing feelings than others do.
“Intentions are what you want—ways you want to be or things you want to do in a situation. Intentions typically involve an attitude of moving toward or away from something” (p. 31). An example of an intention might be, “I want you to tell me about your day when you come home from work.” The willingness to voice our intentions and harmonize them with our partner is a big key in resolving marital conflicts and tensions. As Biblical Christians the willingness to compromise, bend and submit to each other is an attitude that should characterize our marriages and other relationships.
The Action dimension of the Awareness Wheel is divided into three segments. These include past, present and future action. Past action concentrates on what you did earlier (past actions are the data base for your sensations). Present actions include what you are doing right now as we talk. For instance, “I see you fidgeting around.” And future action includes what you plan to do about this issue the next time it arises. Future action is reserved for the two partners to agree on together. Agreement of future action is essential to resolving conflict because it assumes that mutual understanding of each person’s Awareness Wheel has occurred.
In relaying our Awareness Wheels to each other it is important to use “I Statements.” We can only know for sure what we have seen, heard, felt, wanted, etc. so we should only speak for ourselves. We often develop the habit of speaking for our partner by using “You Statements.” This can create tension in the conversation because it usually puts the recipient of the statements on the defensive. “I Statements” are not intended to encourage self-centeredness or selfish attitudes but rather, to keep the responsibility for our thoughts and feelings on ourselves.
The Awareness Wheel helps us to become more in tune with our own experiences on an issue as well as, being more equipped to clue our partner in on these experiences. It is the first step towards achieving understanding of ourselves and our partner. However, just because we share our Awareness Wheels with each other, that does not imply that we have completely understood one another. A complete understanding of each other on an issue requires a lot of hard work, time and patience.
OTHER HELPFUL TOOLS:
There are some skills that we can incorporate into our conversations which can begin to develop shared understanding. The first skill is constructing “Attentive Listening and Observing” habits. Learning to pay attention to our partner’s non-verbal communication as well as verbal. A lot of information is communicated to each other by our use of words, or the way we sit in a chair, and so forth. In order to be expert listeners we need to be aware of all the messages that our partner is sending.
Another helpful skill in developing open lines of communication with each other is “Encouraging and Inviting Disclosure.” Using both verbal and non-verbal communication we can send messages to our partner indicating that we are interested in what they are saying and would like to hear more. Some helpful ideas for creating this type of atmosphere include using non-verbal cues like nodding your head, saying, “Hmmmm” or saying, “interesting” and putting aside things that are taking your attention. Furthermore, direct invitations like, “I’d like to hear more,” or “Then what happened?” also promote a conversational atmosphere.
The skill of “Checking Out” is also helpful in developing understanding. Checking out involves trying to get a full sense of what the other person is saying. For example, “I hear you saying that you feel frustrated, is that true?” Such a question acknowledges what was actually heard (sense data) and a possible interpretation.
Checking Out is also useful when you are confused about one of your partner’s messages. For instance, if you partner said, “You’re really a slob.” You could respond with, “I’m not sure what you are referring to. What did I do to make you think that?” Such a response would encourage more understanding that a retort, “So are you!”
SHARED MEANING PROCESS:
The Shared Meaning Process insures an accurate understanding of a given issue. “A shared meaning occurs when the message sent by one person is the same as the message received by the other” (p. 75). Much of the time in our conversations with each other a little misunderstanding is not too serious. “Approximately will do well enough and we need take no special action to assure that we have shared a meaning” (p. 75). However, in other situations like making travel plans of discussing important issues and clarifying your positions, being able to have an accurate shared meaning is crucial. “When the message is important and when it seems that it may be misunderstood, or has been misunderstood, you can use the Shared Meaning Process as an accuracy check” (p. 75).
“The shared meaning process begins when you or your partner state an intention to share a meaning” (p. 75). You may feel that your partner has not understood something you are trying to say or the issue is unclear and so you stop the conversation and state your intention to share a meaning. Phrases such as: “I want to be clear about this,” or “I need you to understand this” are appropriate.
The next step is to tell your partner the message you want them to hear. The partner then repeats back in their own words the message they have heard. The responsibility is back on the sender at this point, to either clarify the message if the message sent did not equal the message received or confirm, if the message sent equaled the message received. Either partner can stop the flow of the conversation to develop a shared meaning. However, it is up to the one sending the message to determine when they believe the message they initially sent equals the message the partner received.