Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Power of Word Pictures

Have you ever felt like you were trying to communicate your feelings to your spouse, a child or someone else in your world and just couldn't get them to understand? Most of us have. And it doesn't mean the other person is necessarily trying to not get it although that can happen.

Well here's a suggestion and I was not the first to think of it. I originally heard this concept talked about by author, counselor and speaker Gary Smalley. The idea is this. We try to give the other person a word picture told within and about the world the other person knows and understands.

For example, if your spouse is a manager at work with several or even many employees who report to him or her, you might share your feelings in that context. "Jon, imagine if one of your employees regularly had an idea and yet often changed his mind a few days later but never told you about the change. How would that make you feel?"

"Well," Jon might reply, "I guess I would feel a bit irritated, certainly confused and maybe even hurt as to why he was always saying one thing and then doing another and not telling me."

"You see Jon, that's how I feel when you do that here at home. It's not that you change your mind or your idea, but I feel pretty left out, confused and at times angry that you don't include me in that change of decision."

A person will often get it more quickly when we put our feelings into a context they can relate to through their own personal experiences. If your spouse plays sports, the conversation could start this way: "Diana, think about the volleyball team you play on every Tuesday night. What if your coach one night embarrassed you in front of all the others and yet she didn't have all the facts and you were the only one singled out? How would you feel?

This might be the opening you need to bring up a time when you were hurt because your spouse didn't have all the facts about your actions and yet made you look bad in front of others. Stories like this also keep the conversation from deteriorating into accusations about what the other person always or never does, rather than just dealing with the current issue.

You can also use word pictures in dealing with your children, especially the older ones. "Madison, imagine if one of your friends at school . . . . " or "Ryan, think about the guys in your band . . . . " You can finish the pictures with details from their world and yours. Hopefully you get the idea.

Pictures and stories are powerful, aren't they? Go back to some of the sermons, concepts or books you remember best. I'll bet that most of them had a compelling story or picture that you can still recall. Jesus used stories and pictures all the time. They are called parables. They worked. They contain huge amounts of theology and other spiritual truths but in a simple story.

We'll certainly need to practice telling our own versions. It's not easy at first but once we try it a few times it will become more natural. You might want to prepare ahead of time when you know there's an issue that needs to be discussed with a spouse or child. Write your word picture out someplace and work on it until you've crafted it into a great story.

Don't make it too long. Keep it simple. Don't preach! Give a chance to respond. But my hunch is that your conversations will have far more impact and cause less injury along the way. That's worth something, isn't it? For a more detailed discussion of word pictures check out Gary Smalley's book, The Language of Love.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

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