Praxis für Psychosomatische Medizin u. Psychotherapie, Coaching, Mediation u. Prävention
Dr. Dr. med. Herbert Mück (51061 Köln)

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About the art of

(angefertigt von Bettina Umminger, Diplom-Übersetzerin)

He asks: "What has been going on between us yesterday, when you finished our phone conversation so quickly? It seemed curt to me. Or am I wrong? Had your mood something to do with me or with concerns about your sick mother?"

The definition meta-conversation describes for example the situation, that two or more persons discuss the way a certain conversation developped, especially how they treated eachother in that conversation. Meta originally comes from Greek language and means “higher” or “above”. Like an onlooker, “the situation is observed from above”. This helps to get a distance from the own person and from emotions not being aware of before and influencing the situation (mostly negatively). Or you can say that a conversation or conversational behaviour is analyzed in retrospect in order to get final results and to optimize the course of conversation in the future. Meta-conversations mainly deal with the way people communicate with eachother, so to say with their relation. Besides it is mostly about finding out if the other understood exactly what one intended to communicate to him or her by means of language and behaviour. Therefore meta-conversations reduce misunderstandings and improve “conversational culture”. They are an excellent instrument to make and maintain good relations.

For a lot of people the exchange of information (“you`ve got a stain on your pants”) is most important in a conversation (the so-called material level). The fact is, however, that with every sentence we speak, we send a great deal of additional messages and in the end it is always the receiver who decides on their contents. He hears or decides if it is criticism (“you look messy again”) if he should behave differently (wash your pants, will you!) if he feels treated like a child (“everything has to be told you”) or if the other reveals something about himself (“I am ashamed being your companion”). According to the selected meaning, the reaction of the receiver will be different. In the case the selected meaning doesn`t match the sender`s intention (what is more rule than exception) conflicts are bound to happen. However, conflicts are not the only main difficulty of a good communication. One-sided monologues, permanent interruptions and no response to what the other says are also part of it. Such behaviour can also become subject of meta-conversation and change hopefully in the future. - Bücher versandkostenfrei

Tips for meta-conversations:

  1. Come to an agreement with the person you want to talk to that you want to have a pure meta-conversation. Its main purpose is to find out in which way you talk to eachother and which effect the different conversation behaviour has on eachother. Based on this assumption “rules” can be developped which can improve further communication so that it becomes more likely that (mutual) understanding of eachother will be better in the future (f.ex. sending so-called me-messages instead of criticism and attack, frequent request for feedbacks in order to find out what the other finally understood).
  1. Make a clear break between the “analyzed conversation” and the “meta-conversation”relating to it in which raised tempers can calm down. Make yourself clear that meta-conversations not only deal with a complete different subject but also with a complete different perspective. This is sometimes easier if you leave the former seats and sit down on completely different seats or at least stand behind your former seats. You can also change the room and ask oneanother in the new room – with the necessary emotional distance! “what has again just happened between us over there?” The technique to desist from oneself or from a situation and to contemplate it from a neutral position from outside is called “to dissociate” or “to take an eccentric point of view”.
  1. Analyze the conversation as if you were two neutral drama critics having seen a drama together. Try to find out in a constructive dialogue with your conversation partner what has happened on the stage and how it could come to misunderstandings between the participants and how the script could be changed so that new performances of the same play run more smoothly in the future. If possible, don`t use the words me and you while analyzing the conversation. Try to describe it with the “one of us” and “the other of us” or the like. This helps to create an adequate distance from what happened before and prevents that remarks about the participants of the analyzed conversation are seen as a personal assault in the here and now.
  1. Within the framework of a meta-conversation describe what you felt in the analyzed conversation and what your (hopefully) good intention was at that time. Take responsibility for all that has been under your control. Communicate eachother, which message you understood and which effect the behaviour of the other had on you. Develop suggestions for improvement and express them in form of a wish.