By Marty Seitz
Access Wellness Group
Couples often express a need for a helping hand with communication, and when communication skills training does seem warranted, I often begin by teaching them what I call the HANDY model, which is my adaptation of a classic communication tool called the Awareness Wheel (Miller, Sherod, & Phyllis). I call it the HANDY model because as a memory device I have them trace one of their hands on a piece of paper, so they can label the traced fingers of the hand with the main languages of communication—the five kinds of human experience about which people share.
I have them label the thumb Sensations. Logically, all communication starts when we experience something through one or more of our five senses. We see, hear, taste smell, and/or feel something, tactilely, and the sensation or sensations start the ball of human experience rolling. Statements about sensations anchor a conversation and document to what the speaker is reacting.
In reaction to a sensation(s), we have thoughts about what we have seen or heard, so the index finger is labeled thoughts. This category of experience includes synonyms for thoughts such as beliefs, opinions, and ideas. We also often refer to thoughts as self-talk. Thoughts, then, lead to feelings/emotions (e.g., happy, sad, mad, afraid), which are labeled on the center finger. Listeners have to be careful, however, because people commonly say, “I feel” when they are not really talking about emotions or feelings. People may confuse an emotion (e.g.,” I feel sad”) with the tactile sensation (“I feel the wind on my face”) or with a thought (e.g., “I feel [should be think] people are wrong when they …”).
Next to emotions, but different from them, are wants. I label the ring finger wants to remind people to include statements about their wants when trying to communicate in the fullest or most holistic manner possible. Other similar words are intentions, desires, or wishes.
I have people label the pinky finger actions. Actions typically are the logical outcome of the first four languages. Once someone has seen or heard something and formed thoughts, feelings, and intentions in reaction to their sensations, they generally act. Action statements can be made for past, present, and/or future action(s).
So when people want to communicate in the fullest possible manner, they would do well to share about how all five of these basic aspects of human experience are related to a given topic. I have people write the topic of conversation on the palm of their traced hand. All five fingers are attached to the palm like all five communication languages should be related to the topic of a conversation.
Here are some examples of sentence stems for each of the five, beginning with the thumb:
(Sensation) – “I saw /heard (a bluebird).”
(Thought) – “I thought (it was beautiful).”
(Emotion) – “I felt (joyful).”
(Want)- “I wanted to (burst out laughing).”
(Action) – “I did/am doing/will do (sing in the shower/ I am singing in my head right now/will join the choir).”
Most people usually use only two of these five communication languages, but so that anyone with whom you speak hears something in his or her own native communication language, so to speak, it is often helpful to make statements about all five areas and/or to invite the person to whom you are speaking to share in each of these five areas by prompting them with questions such as, “What did you see or hear that made you think that?” (sensation), or, “What did you think about that?” (thought), or, “What emotion did you have when you thought that?” (emotion), or, “What did it make you want?” (want), or, “What did you do?” (action).
In teaching this model to couples, I have them take turns being speaker and listener. After one speaks, the listener tries to summarize in his or her own words what the speaker has said in each of the five areas. Then I have them switch roles.
Finally, I add one more element to the HANDY model. I have each person draw a small rectangle as if being held between thumb and index finger. I have each person label this rectangle word picture, and I explain that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes describing one’s total experience with a topic in the form of a metaphor/analogy can be one additional way of communicating (e.g., “for me after that happened it was as if someone had spit in my face” [negative] or “when she said that to me it was as if someone had just handed me a hot cup of cocoa on a cold night” [positive]). The words paint a picture that conveys sensations, thoughts, emotions, wants, and actions all in one.
Few of us are equally skilled in all six of these modes of communication, but the more we practice sharing our own experiences with others and understanding the experiences of others in these six ways, the better understood all of us will be. Clearer, fuller, mutual understanding does not guarantee mutual agreement, but it can decrease misunderstandings and needless conflict. Knowing how to share and listen fully or holistically can really come in HANDY.
When you see this article, I hope it gets you thinking about how you can communicate more fully. I also hope you feel encouraged by the thought that you can improve your communication. Then I hope these thoughts and feelings make you want to practice this model such that you actually do practice it. Then when you notice how people respond more positively to you when you speak, you will feel like a rock star getting applause from your adoring fans. Well, maybe that last word picture was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture.
Marty Seitz is an associate professor of psychology in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Asbury University, where he has taught since 1989. He got his bachelor’s in psychology from Asbury University, studied at Asbury Theological Seminary, got a master’s degree in community counseling and a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from Georgia State University. In addition to his teaching, he has practiced as a licensed psychologist in Lexington since 1989, doing individual and couples’ counseling and has been working with the Access Wellness Group since its inception.