Some years ago, my wife and I were having trouble communicating with one of our high-school-age daughters. To help resolve the situation, we came up with an approach that worked well for us. I call it Two-by-Two, and in today’s blog, I’ll explain the method and when and how you might use it.
What is Two-by-Two?
Two-by-Two is a structured way of communicating that you can use to help resolve a conflict with someone.
Is this approach for everybody?
Two-by-Two is probably overkill for most situations. I have found two occasions when it has been most helpful:
- When poor communication habits (e.g., interrupting, talking without listening, etc.) prevent you from making progress.
- When there is a perceived difference in power between the two parties (e.g., a child or teen speaking with a parent).
Here are five steps you can take.
#1: Invite the other person to try a different approach.
Start by acknowledging that you’ve had trouble communicating. Share how much you care for the other person, and that you really want to find a solution to the problem that will work for both of you. You read about this approach, and you think it might work.
#2: Explain the method.
It’s called Two-by-Two, and it has two parts: A Listening Part and a Negotiation Part.
During the Listening Part, each of you takes turns telling your side of the story and your concerns. The other person listens and doesn’t interrupt. The person talking only has two minutes to tell their side. (I recommend using a timer to act as an impartial timekeeper. This allows the listener to focus on listening and avoids the irritation of stopping each other.)
When you’re done with your two minutes, the other person repeats back to you what they heard you say. If they seem to understand, then it’s their turn to talk. If they still don’t get it, then you can explain your position further. Besides repeating back to you what they heard you say, the listener is allowed to ask questions, but only to clarify details and to improve their understanding, not to make comments or rebuttals.
Now it’s their turn. The other person gets two minutes to have their say, and when they’re done, you have to repeat back what you heard them say.
You keep taking turns talking and listening until you’re both satisfied that the other person understands your position and how you feel.
At this point, you move to the Negotiation Part. One person (usually it starts with whoever made the invitation) suggests a solution to your disagreement that they believe will satisfy the interests of both sides. If the other person doesn’t like the offer, they can make a counter-offer. Each person explains how they think their suggestion will meet the other person’s concerns. The process ends when you come to an agreement.
#3: Explain the rules.
There are three rules:
1) Keep to the two-minute limit.
That being said, allow the other person to finish their thought or sentence before switching.
2) Don’t interrupt.
3) Respect the other person.
This means no yelling, put-downs, or blaming. Use “I” statements that tell what you’re thinking or feeling while avoid making “you” statements that tend to sound like accusations.
#4: Consider a consequence for breaking the rules.
If you trust each other, and you’re both likely to admit when you make a mistake, then you can probably skip this step. Otherwise, agreeing on the consequences for breaking the rules will help prevent the process from breaking down if one of you messes up.
This works best if each side sets their own consequences rather than trying to impose an arbitrary penalty on the other person. The first time we did this, I offered to give my daughter $5 if I broke the rules. I really wanted to incentivize her participation, and it did the trick.
#5: Pray before you start.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to listen and really understand one another.
What do you do if the process breaks down or you can’t come to an agreement?
If you made it to the Negotiation Part and you’re at an impasse, then you can try tabling your discussion for 1-2 days, with the understanding that each of you will work on coming up with a solution that you’ll find mutually beneficial.
If you can’t make it through the Listening Part, you probably need to step back and assess what’s happening. Perhaps there is another, deeper issue that you need to address. Or maybe you need to ask for forgiveness and reconcile.
If you still can’t move forward, you may want to get a third party involved, and depending on the situation, even consider professional counseling.
Why only two minutes?
The two-minute limit gives each side enough time to talk about one issue but
prevents them from monopolizing. It makes the Q & A time shorter and also makes it easier for the other side to digest what they’re hearing and give better feedback.
What are the advantages of this method?
Much of our communication problems come from either not listening and
understanding the other person, or because our partner thinks we’re not hearing them or that we don’t understand. This technique forces each side to pay attention, and it does it in such a way that the other party knows they’ve been heard.
It trains both sides to practice active listening and helps reinforce healthy communication habits.
The time limit equalizes the opportunity for speaking. If there’s a perceived difference in power, it elevates the position of the weaker side.
It also encourages both sides to look at the issue from the other person’s point of view, making it easier to arrive at a win-win solution.
What are the limitations?
If both of you already communicate well, then the two-minute time limit might prove too limiting and even irritating.
Sometimes past injuries or emotional barriers can be so significant that they impede progress or cause communication to break down.
Bad communication habits are difficult to overcome. Adding self-imposed penalties can help encourage both sides to improve, but If someone keeps making the same mistake, one side or the other may get frustrated and quit.
The process still depends on both parties acting with goodwill and making an earnest effort to find a mutually beneficial solution. If one side adopts a purely self-centered position or doesn’t cooperate, then the Two-by-Two approach likely won’t work.