SAY WHAT YOU SEE® to Yourself First

SAY WHAT YOU SEE® to Yourself First

In her blog article “Applying ‘Say What You See’ to Adult Relationships” Monica Cravotta related my work to that of her friend and coach Chris Douglas. Monica came to the conclusion that “in a very basic way, we’re no different than our little ones in feeling upset when our basic emotional needs are unmet.” So true!

In trying to bring understanding to heated moments in her adult relationships Monica wisely says, “It’s your ability to center yourself when your buttons are pushed to seek first to understand, then be understood.” But even more wisely, she goes on to say how hard that is when all you are thinking is “how wrong the other person is, how you can make sure they understand how wrong they are, and all the things you need to say to defend yourself.”

I laughed when I read that because I’ve had those exact thoughts.

Douglas says to take a moment to breathe for a certain number of counts, which is excellent advice and can often work to center oneself, but not always. Here’s why:

When you hit the point where you cannot listen, you are right. You cannot listen because you need to be heard.

As Monica said, like children, we get upset when our needs are unmet. The first premise of SAY WHAT YOU SEE is: Everything children say and do is a communication; and they MUST continue to communicate until heard. This applies to us as well.

So what can you do? When you hit the wall with your partner or spouse, SAY WHAT YOU SEE® to yourself.

Talk to your partner ahead of time and establish a way to break away from an argument that won’t make things worse. A statement like, “Wait. I can’t listen. I need a moment,” might do. Then while you are doing your breathing or whatever calms you down, LISTEN TO YOURSELF and SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS) yourself thinking.

Do not resist your thoughts, explore them fully.

Start from wherever you are, follow your thoughts and feelings, and have an internal dialog with yourself about it (or talk to yourself out loud if you can step away from your partner) For example:

SWYS to Yourself: “He/she is wrong, wrong, wrong!!! You’re sure of it! You hate it when he/she doesn’t listen. You feel like there’s nothing you can say that will make any difference…”

Addressing yourself as “you” will give you some distance from your thoughts. If you find yourself nodding or even agreeing with yourself out loud, you are definitely getting yourself heard.

Notice which thought has the most power and really sets off your anger or tears. Hold that thought and SAY WHAT YOU SEE, over and over. That kind of thought is usually not new, but its importance might have been overlooked. It will often reach as far back as childhood.

As strange as it seems, the more you SAY WHAT YOU SEE and realize how true a thought is to you, the less true it becomes until you can finally distinguish it as a thought, not a reality.

Hint: Listen for thoughts that are generalized as in “always” or “never.” Your adult mind may recognize that something is not always true, but your kid-logic still thinks it is. The more you step into your childhood perspective on it, the more sense your anger or tears make.

Here’s an example. I recently uncovered a thought that has been trying to get itself heard and validated for 50 years or so: “Adults never listen.” Try that one when your job is teaching parents! Definitely a child’s conversation, but powerful nonetheless.

Here’s how it shows up: I can be teaching folks to listen and getting enthusiastic responses for weeks on end, then that one person shows up who “doesn’t want to listen.” The truth is he can’t hear a word I say because he needs to be heard first. But even though I know that (I wrote the book on this stuff!) and tell myself, “No, he really wants to listen. That’s why he’s here,” when that thought “adults never listen” gets fired up, I’m gone.

Breathing and saying what I see him saying gets me through, but I know I’ve got some work to do. When I see a pattern in my reactions (in this case it was men not listening), I look for the thought that would explain it. When “adults never listen” popped up, I knew I had it. It explained everything. The frustration, anger, and helplessness I feel when I can’t make my point now is the same as when I was little with my dad (though I’m better at hiding or coping with it now, as Monica said).

That thought “adults never listen” also explains my life! What do I do? I teach parents to LISTEN; not kids, just adults. Now it all makes sense.

When you hit that level of self-understanding everything shifts. In my case, I can now see that “adults never listen” is not a truism—sometimes adults listen and sometimes they don’t. As a child, I couldn’t do anything about it, but now I can. No need to feel frustrated, angry, and helpless…for very long.

The thing is that old thoughts may still get activated, but once you know they are not a reality, you can bounce back almost instantly by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE yourself thinking. At this point, all I need to say to myself is, “You think he’s not listening. Oh, that’s right! You think adults never listen!” And just like that, I’m back and ready to say what I see until I understand him first.

Besides being the missing step in parenting and adult relationships, SAY WHAT YOU SEE is often the missing step in connecting with ourselves. Do that first, and listening becomes easy.

You can find out more about our simple 3-part coaching approach in our book, SAY WHAT YOU SEE® for Parents and Teachers. You can buy it here, or if you just can’t wait, you can read it online here for free!

Or if videos are more your speed, you can check out our self-led, online Basic Coaching Skills Course and Mastery Class, which are full of clips that you can watch at your own pace to learn how to step from controlling your child into coaching your child and gain more hugs, more respect, and more cooperation as a result.


  1. Monica |

    Sandy – So glad you discovered my article and that you liked it. We love your book! And I look forward to following your blog. You’re doing great work for our community and beyond!

    Best –

  2. Sarah Verbist |

    Hello Sandy! I just finished your book SWYS and i find it easy but also difficult… im always thinking about it. In this post i dont understand what it means that when your buttons are pushed you need to understand before you can be understood. SWYS is starting to come naturally but i find myself often in situations with my daughter where i feel overwhelmed and i dont know how to handle or percieve the situation. I have my own limitations and insecureties and because i havent had a good rolmodel when i was a child i often dont know what the right thi g or best option is. The examples really help but when i dont have an example im really puzzled. Sorry for my english but im dutch.

  3. Sarah,

    It sounds like you know yourself very well, and one of the things you know is that you learn best from examples. Since your parents didn’t give you a good parenting example to follow, becoming a good role model for your daughter and setting a good example for her is probably something you want very much.

    That’s probably why you like Language of Listening® and have been working hard to learn it. Now that SWYS is starting to come naturally, it sounds like you are moving into guidance, so handling situations and changing your perceptions of those situations is your next challenge.

    I’m not sure if it was the phrase “buttons pushed” or Monica’s wording that you found confusing, so I’ll try to clarify both. “Buttons pushed” is a metaphor for becoming reactive, like someone pushing a “hot button” that turns on your anger without your control. So what Monica was talking about was being reactive and needing to be centered instead to bring understanding to heated moments.

    The wording was odd, but the message I intended by including her comment is one that you probably understand. It was basically that while it’s true that understanding the other person first (SWYS) can defuse an argument or a struggle with a child, it’s really hard to do when you are angry, because when you are angry you need to be heard, too. In that heated moment you are usually sure your child isn’t listening and sure that the answer is to “make them listen.” Of course that only escalates the argument.

    Changing your perceptions helps keep you centered and calm so you are not activated in the first place, which is where SWYS comes in. But when you have been activated and are already angry, you really do need to be heard before you can listen to your child. Since children can’t usually listen to you first, this article points out that your best listener in heated moments is you.

    SWYS to yourself even briefly is often enough for you to become centered and return to your child to SWYS and provide guidance. The things you need to know in order to offer effective CAN DO’s are what your child wants AND what your boundary is. The solutions come from there, followed by STRENGTHs to anchor your child’s awareness of her abilities.

    With or without good role models growing up, guidance is usually the biggest challenge for parents. SWYS can help you change your perceptions and stay calm, but if you are insecure and feeling overwhelmed about what to do next, you need not only examples but support.

    Assuming you’ve already read my book:
    [ ],
    you can find tons more examples in my blog posts and classes, and those of the coaches I’ve trained:
    [ ]

    Two of our coaches offer private FaceBook groups to provide interactive support for parents interested in learning more about Language of Listening®.

    Rose Clark’s FB group, Love the Way You Parent, just happens to be for parents who had no good role models growing up and therefore suffered difficult childhoods.
    [ ]

    Camilla Miller’s FB group, Keeping Your Cool Parenting – Swap the chaos for calm, helps parents stop shouting, see their children differently, and rebuild troubled relationships to bring peace to their homes.
    [ ]

    I hope these resources provide what you need for STRENGTHs and CAN DOs to become as natural for you as SWYS is starting to be. Thank you for letting me clarify the confusing part of this post for you. Hopefully from my reply, you can see how very capable you are of getting your message across in English.–Sandy

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