The principles of Imago and Non-Violent Communication offer dialogical frameworks that, when used correctly, enable participants to speak their minds and feel heard without hurting each other.
Of utmost importance in both models is the safety of the person you are speaking to. When your listener does not feel safe, he or she cannot stay present to you. He or she will either fight back or withdraw from you entirely.
One of the common ways in which we make our partners feel unsafe is by trying to argue our position rather than present it as our story or personal experience.
We get caught up in building a case for our “side”, appealing to third party authority— whether in the form of scripture, law or science— in an attempt to bolster our position and pre-empt the validity of someone else's. We set up a conversation which leaves the listener only two options: to be with or against me. This is an adversarial stance in which there is no room for another.
Let’s take an example.
A man believes that his wife is unfairly biased against his children who are her stepchildren. He has reasons for believing this and wants his concerns heard.
Safe = I believe that you hold my children to a different standard than your own and, because of my conviction based on my observations and theories explaining your past actions, I fear that you will continue to overlook certain behaviours in your children that you do not forgive in mine.
Unsafe = I do not trust you because, based on your past actions as proof, you hold my children to a different standard than your own, and I have no doubt that you will continue to overlook behaviours in your children that you do not forgive in mine.
The first is a statement that focuses on the link between me and my beliefs about my wife, a statement which emphasizes the subjectivity of my beliefs and their relativity to me, my perceptions, theories and convictions. They are put forward with certainty but without eradicating the possibility that my wife may have an explanation for her actions which may serve as a corrective to my own perceptions.
The second statement focuses on the link between evidence and my conclusions about my wife, a statement which emphasizes the justification for my conclusions and their objectivity based on the proof I selectively submit in their favour. My convictions are put forward as truths and eradicate the possibility that my wife may have an explanation for her actions which may serve as a corrective to my own perceptions.
The first statement is safe for the listener. The husband leaves room for his wife's account of her own actions from the inside. The second puts a chokehold on her, leaving no room for her experience of herself and denying her the possibility of influencing his perceptions.