Frankfurt, Germany—The guest speaker at a UPF program showed how to have constructive communication in the family and elsewhere.

About 25 participants attended a three-hour seminar at the UPF offices on September 16, 2018. An interesting mixture of age groups was represented.

Gesine Otto, a social worker who has been a mediator for almost 20 years, conducted the seminar titled “Constructive Communication in the Family: The Seven Steps of Equitable Communication.”

Among the most important questions we can ask ourselves is surely: “How do we communicate with each other? How can I say something so that it is understood correctly without being hurtful?”

Mrs. Otto compared different styles of communication to the colors of a traffic light: red, amber and green:

“Are too many of my words loaded with negative emotions, quickly provoking conflict (red area)? Or do I express my concerns and problems without reproach/criticism/analysis (amber area – neutral)? Am I able to express myself positively and constructively (green area)?”

The art of equitable communication is especially important in the family. But this also applies to other areas in which people express differing points of view (for example, politics).

To start with, Mrs. Otto gave us insight into her mediation concept, “Fairness in RED-AMBER-GREEN,” for all age groups. This was presented very concretely with the “Fairness Circle in RED-AMBER-GREEN,” consisting of three correspondingly colored cloths set on the floor in the middle of the circle of chairs.

Interestingly, the Golden Rule, according to Mrs. Otto, is an “AMBER rule”: “Whatever you don’t wish done to you. don’t do to another.”

The RED rule = to do something harmful to another

The AMBER rule = to do nothing harmful to another

The GREEN rule = to do something good for another: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

After practical exercises and active participation, Mrs. Otto continued into the unconscious part of communication.

It is common knowledge that the iceberg is a symbol of the unconscious. Two examples were given to illustrate this:

Example 1: What makes someone yawn? Boredom? Tiredness? Lack of coffee? Lack of oxygen? Provocation? Hunger? Thirst?

Example 2: “The Story of the Hammer” from Paul Watzlawick’s 1983 book Instructions on Un(happiness) describes acting on assumptions.

In order to communicate constructively, we have to “dive down the iceberg,” from top to bottom, and look for at least three different reasons which are hidden, for a visible action.

As a symbol of constructive communication, Mrs. Otto laid a bunch of three colored plastic keys on the green area on the floor inside the circle. They represent our cooperatively prepared “door-opening words.” In the version suitable for children these are, for example, “thank you,” “please” and “sorry.”

On the red cloth there was a stuffed cloth pig for “whoop it up!” for the audience participation exercises.

The final part of the presentation dealt with feelings. Everyone deals internally with feelings that are unconsciously projected externally. What is it really all about? Do we really listen to what concerns the other, and are we able to recognize his or her emotional state? Do we put on our green glasses and ask: “How was it for you? What could I have done?”

At the very end, we were given some insights into the essential characteristics of mediation and systematic consensus as a fair method of choice. Mrs. Otto recommended many books, quotes and films, and laid out a selection for the participants to look over.

(Translated from German by Catriona Valenta.)

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