works with adults and
are neutral, factual observations about your communication process
(e.g. "I notice that you often look down or away when we talk about
intimacy."). Meta-comments aim to help you both
meet more of your current needs,
so offering them
respectfully is a potential
a criticism, complaint, or attack.
Develop the habit of clearly
knowing why you're making a meta-comment
or other feedback before you speak.
Pleading (I'm 1-down) or condescending or sarcastic (I'm
1-up) metatalk will probably degrade your communication and relationship. If
your communication partner gets defensive from comments like these, one option is
to choose to
(i.e. briefly say back their response
without judgment), so they feel
heard. When their
and they can
hear you better. Then restate your meta-comment.
Using your partner's
name sincerely in your
meta-comment (or in general) may make it easier to get and keep their
unless you overdo it...
For sensitive communication problems,
your meta-comments in advance, and practice them alone and/or with an objective partner until
they become more natural and spontaneous;
Make your meta-comments as brief, factual,
and specific as you can, to minimize misunderstandings and
sermons, and getting
lured onto other subjects. One way to do this is to describe specific environmental
conditions, and behaviors of your partner, that could be recorded
on film or tape, rather than describing personality traits.
Be aware of any
expectations about your
partner's response to your meta-comments. If you expect him or her to (ultimately) reject or
ignore your feedback, or if you feel unjustified or ambivalent in making it, your odds
for success drop.
If your partner
can hear and accept your
comment, often the next step is to use
Allow yourself to
develop your own
and skill, rather than being
perfect at it. This skill
doesn't always work, but it does raise the odds you'll fill your
Notice your reactions as you read the
examples below. If the examples seem weird, awkward, or strange, it
implies you're not used to using this skill. Give the skill
a try, be patient, and note the results!
| What ever meta-comment
you choose, successful social-problem resolution hinges on each partner
and (b) consistently feeling that the other person's current
needs are just as important as their own (a mutual-respect attitude).
Let's go from the theoretical to real life now. This is what metatalk
sounds like in action...
the theme of these sample responses to
common communication (relationship) problems.
asterisk or highlight any situations
below that you specially want to improve:
You're unsure if your partner is willing to receive a
"(Partner's name), are you open to some
feedback about how
we're talking now?" (What if s/he isn't?)
wrong between you and your partner, but
you don't know what:
"(Name), I need to be quiet
for a bit. Something's not feeling right about us to me, and it's making it hard for me to
listen to you now. Can you wait with me while I try to get clearer?"
You feel 1-up
(superior) or 1-down (inferior)
toward your partner (vs. mutual respect):
"I want to own that I'm feeling critical of you now,
and it's getting in my way"; or "I don't know why, but I
feel intimidated by you now. Would you be willing to shift (from the present subject) now
and take a look at that with me?"
You're unsure what your partner's
"I'm confused, (name).
What do you need from
communication goal doesn't seem to
"(Name), I sense that our communication
I need to
______. What do you need from me now?"
something and can't focus on your partner:
"(Name), I'm feeling really distracted by
_______________. Could I take care of that and resume with you at (specific time)?"
You want to express
at your partner
"(Name), I am REALLY irritated and
frustrated with you
because (specific behavior)! Are you in a place to use
with me on this? If
you're not, I need to agree on a time when we can work on this! I'm so
upset so I
can't hear your side of it right now."
You want to express
praise so your partner hears you.
"(Name), when you (describe their specific behavior),
I feel really (grateful / proud of you / appreciative...), because (specific reason).
Thanks / Nice job!" This is an assertive
You don't feel
safe to talk honestly
with (tell the truth to) your partner:
"I'm pretty nervous about saying this... (Name), I
can't be really honest with you about (specific subject). I'm scared that
reason). Will you problem-solve with me on this?"
You don't understand your partner's current thoughts:
"I'm confused. Could you make your point another way?"
"Could you recap your ideas in a few sentences?" I want to be clearer on what you mean."
"So what is it that you want me to know (about their topic)?
Another useful option is to use
Recall - these are examples of possible meta-comments you can
make in common social situations.
by your partner:
"(Name), I'm having
a hard time staying interested in (their topic) right now. Maybe I can hear
you better another time." or "Could you summarize what
it is you want me to know (about this topic)?"
Your partner seems 1-up
(disrespectful): i.e. you currently feel
down or discounted because s/he: constantly interrupts you / talks non-stop /
changes the subject before you're done / ignores or derides your ideas / name-calls / works
while you talk / is sarcastic / avoids your eyes, etc.
"When you (specific current behavior),
I feel my needs aren't very important to you. I feel ignored,
hurt, and resentful!"
("...and I want you to stop doing that.")
Your partner seems 1-down:
e.g. s/he discounts (disparages) her/his own current feelings, needs, or thoughts.
"(Name), when you say 'I'm probably
wrong again' (or other specific behavior), I feel you put yourself down,
and I get very uneasy / uncomfortable / ________."
Your partner is (now or often) uncomfortably curt or
"Looks like you need to be brief / quiet now."
"Am I doing anything that stops you from saying what you're thinking or feeling?"
"When you choose
to (be so brief / remain silent) I feel ___________."
"What do you need from me now?"
(often?) leaves before
"When you take off before I finish our
issue / conversation), I feel unimportant, frustrated, and put down! I
need to know if I'm doing something that blocks your talking with
me. Will you work on that with me?"
frequently (or now) won't look at you:
"(Name), when you avoid my eyes so much, I feel uneasy and
distracted from what you're saying." ("Do you have a problem with me right
Your partner brings up an
conflict you thought was resolved:
"(Name), I get REALLY
you bring up (the specific old issue) again and again! I feel punished,
attacked, and weary! What do you need from me so you could
let go of
This problem usually indicates your partner
isn't aware of what s/he really
from you, and repeatedly focuses on
can disclose the primary unmet needs, and
can help to fill them.
rambles on and on:
"Whoa (fingers in ears)! I feel swamped. You're
saying so much! When you need to do that, It gets hard for me to hear you after a
while." ("You don't really need any input from me right now, yes?")
"(Name), when you talk on and on
without asking for my response or asking about me, I feel increasingly used,
hurt, and resentful. Can we talk about this?"
Your communication partner sends a
double message (their words don't match their body / face / tone):
"Please stop, (Name) - I'm getting
confused. Your face looks (specific emotion: sad / angry / bored...), but you
you're not. What gives?" (Note: sending frequent double or
"mixed" messages is a clear sign of false-self
Your partner makes (wrong)
about you - e.g. s/he finish your sentences, or tell you what you're thinking,
feeling, wanting, or really meaning:
"(Name), I'm starting to resent your making assumptions
about me. When you tell me what I'm 'really' feeling or thinking, I feel 1-down and
ignored by you. I feel like I'm the kid, and you're the adult. (... And I'm going to call
you on it when I notice you 'mind-reading' me, because I really need you to stop
Your partner uses information
you've shared to attack or criticize you:
"Name), I feel really betrayed by you. I
trusted you with (specific information), and I feel like you're using it against me.
I'm feeling a lot less safe in confiding in you!"
Your partner says you're playing
communication or mind games:
"So you feel manipulated or conned by me just
now..." (Wait for a response...) If "yes":
"I'm pretty frustrated that you feel that way. I'm
trying to tell you honestly what I (think / feel / want), and to clearly hear what
need." ("What is it I'm doing that makes you feel that way?"
"What do you need me to change?")
+ + +
Pause, breathe, and reflect - can you describe the several main
themes underlying these sample meta-comments? One theme is prompt,
respectful assertion about a communication problem. A common alternative
is stuffing or repressing your feelings and needs, which is a lose-lose
option that may signal that a false self rules you. Note that your odds for
success are best using your own words, not parroting these examples...
Your Own Situations
above examples as a guide to composing your own meta-comments: