Communication Exercise: Dyads

A dyad is a structured communication exercise between two people. The exercise lasts about 40 minutes. These notes describe how to set up and participate in a dyad. The overall aim is to improve the level of communication and understanding between the two people.

First the environment should be clean and tidy and free from interruptions. The two people doing the dyad should sit facing each other a comfortable distance apart. They should not touch each other during the dyad, but should be close enough to easily hear what each other says. The people can sit on chairs or cushions or stools, it does not matter. Their heads should be at about the same level – so it would be a mistake for one person to sit on the floor and the other to sit on a chair.

The dyad has eight five minute periods. The duration of the periods can best be determined by using a “gong timer” which sounds three bells at the end of each five minute period – and five bells at the end of the complete exercise. The ‘gong timer’ is available as an MP3 file (Track 1). The first period on the timer is a little longer to allow someone the chance to switch the timer on, regain their set and ask or receive the instruction.

The first step is to decide who will go first i.e. be the first person to communicate about themselves. If this is an issue simply toss a coin to determine who goes first.

The second step is to decide what question or instruction to use. There is a separate section outlining a relating dyad that is useful for couples experiencing difficulties in their relationship. At the end of this description of how to undertake dyads there is a list of possible questions/instructions that people have found useful. If you are undecided then use a very general instruction such as “Tell me what you are”. It is not essential for both people to use the same instruction, but it is simpler, especially when you are learning how the process works.

Now the gong timer is started and the listening partner (the person going second) gives the communicating partner(the person going first) the instruction. The instruction should be given precisely and the person giving it should mean it to the best of their ability. Once they have given the instruction the listening partner is then silent for the remainder of the five minute period (except in the case of multi-part dyads discussed later).

The communicating partner, the one who was given the instruction, then thinks about or contemplates the instruction. So if the instruction is “Tell me a problem that you have in your life” then the person thinks about a problem to communicate. Once a response comes into their consciousness then they should communicate it to their partner in such a way that the partner can understand it. Sometimes this may require providing some background, sometimes it might require showing some emotion – it will always require that the communicator looks at the listener as they speak. In dyads with just one instruction, when the communicating partner has finished communicating what occurred in their consciousness they should then return to the instruction and contemplate it again. Sometimes further material on the same issue will surface; other times a completely different train of thought will arise. Whatever occurs this is what should then be communicated next.

During the five minute period the listening partner does their best to put their undivided attention on the communicating partner – even while they are thinking or contemplating. They should avoid showing any judgements about anything they hear. This includes avoiding smiling, nodding, frowning, sudden intakes of breath and so on. The listening partner should aim to hear without judgement and to understand as best they can what is being communicated. The benefit gained from the process depends to a large degree on how successful each person is at being a good listening partner.

The end of the five minutes is marked by a bell sounding on the tape; there are actually three bells separated by about a second. Soon after the first bell the communicating partner should finish what they are saying; then the listening partner says “Thank you” to complete the first communication cycle.

Then the roles reverse. By the third bell, or very soon after, the previous communicating partner should then give the previous listening partner his or her instruction. This reversal of roles occurs at the end of each five minute period. A dyad has eight such periods, so each person gets to be the listening partner four times and the communicating partner four times. Busy people find that doing two dyads (i.e. two 40 minute sessions), one after the other, is most rewarding since the sense of closeness and contact has time to grow.

When an instruction has two (or more) parts then the procedure is slightly different. At the beginning of a five minute period the first instruction is always given (no matter how the previous five minute period ended). The communicating partner responds to the first instruction and when she or he have said all they want for the first part then they say “ok”. The listening partner then says “Thank you” and then delivers the second part of the dyad. When the communicating partner has finished responding to that they say “ok” once more, the listening partner says “Thank you” and gives the first part of the dyad again. This cycling round the two (sometimes three) parts of the dyad instruction continues throughout the five minute period. It is most important that the listening partner acknowledges each part of the answer with “Thank you” as well as completing the five minute period with a “Thank you”. After each changeover the process starts again with the first instruction (no matter where the person stopped in their last five minute period).

The success of this communication process depends to quite a large degree on adopting a level of formality throughout the process. The most important aspects of this, apart from not responding whilst being the listening partner, are:

(a) do not involve the other person directly in your communication. In particular never say something like “When you last went shopping..”. A simple way to avoid this is to refer to the other person as if they were not the listener. For example “When my wife last went shopping ..”

(b) do not comment on anything that the other person has said. It is quite likely that when you contemplate what to say things triggered by what your partner said will come up. This is fine and part of the process, but describe what arises entirely as your own. So instead of saying “You reminded me of the time I went shopping..” simply say “I remembered that the last time I went shopping..”

(c) do not correct each other. If something goes wrong, for example your partner forgets to thank you or gives you the wrong instruction, simply carry on imagining that you have been thanked or have been given the right instruction.

(d) at the end of the dyad do not presume that it is OK to then talk about what the other person has said during the dyad. Instead ask them whether it is OK, and respect it if they are not yet ready to have an informal conversation about what they said during the dyad.

Dyad instructions:

A. General questions
1. Tell me how you are

2. Tell me about a problem you have
Tell me what more I need to know to understand this fully

B. Self inspection questions (two part instructions)
3. Tell me something you are critical of in another person
Tell me about this in yourself

4. Tell me something that you have done that, in your own estimation you should not have done
Tell me something you failed to do, that in your own estimation you should have done.

5. Tell me about an experience that has changed your life
Tell me how your life changed as a result of that experience

C. Relating dyad (see also Relating Dyad)
6. Tell me something you like about me
Tell me something you think we agree on
Tell me something about yourself you think I should know

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