A Conversation with Les Parrott

Dr. Les Parrot is a renowned psychologist, marriage expert and conference speaker. He often partners with his wife, Leslie, and the couple has written several books together. Their latest book is entitled, Love Talk.

Les, we’ve read many of your books over the past decade and this one is really incredible. I guess the obvious question is, why are you just now addressing communication when you say, “it’s the very life blood of a relationship”?

So are you saying my other books weren’t incredible? (laugh, laugh)

No, no, no… (laugh)

Anybody that’s in this field knows that communication is the number one complaint that people bring in to a marriage counselor. “We just don’t communicate.” And so people would often ask us, “Why don’t you have a book on communication?” We felt that we really didn’t want to delve into this until we had something really totally new and fresh to say. After all, there are lots of books on communication and marriage. So why just add something else to it if it’s just kind of echoing similar sentiments from our perspective? But this book is really the result of years of research and we really feel like it offers something new to the whole field.

I can imagine that this offered a lot of challenges in putting your thoughts down about this very communication issue with Leslie, as you co-authored this book with her. How did that fold out?

Any time you write a book with your spouse, you have a built-in accountability system. So you do some soul searching. When we write, we really put ourselves out there, because we’re looking at real life experiences. This isn’t stuff that’s fiction. This is something that happened probably last week that we’re writing about. And we just found it. I guess we are more excited about this product than we ever have been on any of our books because we’ve seen the difference that it makes in our own relationship. And when that happens, you really speak with conviction and excitement about it.

In the book, you talk about the one ingredient that you say is the secret to emotional connection. Can you explain what that is and why it’s so important to us in our communication?

We realized that basically communication is the “life blood” of a relationship. Your relationship is gonna sink or swim based on how well you communicate.

Les, you point out that we all have “fear factors”. What are personal fear factors and why is it so important that we know what ours are?

This is really the center piece of our whole model and we say that if you can identify your “personal fear factor” — or your “emotional safety zone” is another way to say it — you have then found a foundation of every great conversation.

They basically have to do with the fear of losing one of four things. And the first of these is what we call “your time”. Just your fear of losing “time”. And I speak from personal experience on this, because this is my number one fear factor. What makes me feel most emotionally safe? When I’m gaining control of my time, when my time is being used effectively and efficiently, when my time is taking me to where I want to go and not kind of getting me down some bunny trail.

The second one is the fear of “losing approval” from your partner. The third one is the fear of “losing loyalty”. Now we all want loyalty in our relationship, but this has to do with that sense of consistency that my partner provides that I can count on them, that they are predictable and so forth.

And then fourthly is the fear of “losing the ?quality standard'”. And this isn’t necessarily excellence. It has to do with kind of following due process. There’s a right way to do something and I’m gonna find the right way. I’m not just gonna do the right thing, I’m gonna find the right way to do the right thing. And so these people kind of lean more into the rules while other people kind of see rules as mere guidelines.

Now this doesn’t mean that because we can identify our partner’s fear factor that we have to walk on eggshells, does it?

Absolutely not. In fact, this is the beauty of this whole thing. You’ll begin to relax in your relationship. Because now you understand, “Oh, okay, this is how the combination works for our great conversations”.

In Chapter 4 you say that each of us has a unique “talk style”. Can you explain what you mean by “talk style”?

Your talk style is really formed around four things. In fact, it’s really four questions that you need to answer. And the first of them is “How do you solve problems?” Typically you solve problems somewhere along a continuum. On one end of the continuum, you’re an aggressive problem solver, on the other end you’re a passive problem solver. So, that’s the first question. “How do you tackle problems?”

Now I want our listeners to also realize that 25% of our conversations are spent on solving problems. So, if you want to enjoy love talk, if you want to communicate in each other’s language, you’ve got to get a lock on how you solve problems. You’ve got to work out that dance together. That’s the first step in understanding and unpacking your talk style.

We tend to “influence with feelings or with facts”. And so again, like 25% of our conversations are involved in problem solving, another 25% are involved on influencing each other. Now, remember our fear factors, winning approval was one of those. If winning approval is an intense fear factor for you, if that’s one of these things that you fear losing in a conversation, that’s going to correlate with being an influencer with feeling. You’re gonna be much more tied in to reading the emotions. That’s why you tend to rely on feelings more than facts. So that’s the second question.

Can you share more with us?

the good fight
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The Good Fight

The next one is “How do you react to change?” Once you kind of get a lock on problem solving, and how you influence each other, then we take a good look at change, because this is another important step in identifying your talk style. Either you are gonna be resistant to change or accepting of change, or somewhere in between.

So, reacting to change again, is another 25% of our conversation involvement. That’s why we say this is important in your fear factor. And again, it does tie back directly to the fear factor of loyalty. And the more you prize loyalty, the more resistant to change you will be.

And I suppose then talking about how we make decisions might come into play there too, right?

And that’s the fourth component of identifying your talk style: “How you make decisions” — independently as well as together.

The continuum that we look at here is either you’re a cautious decision-maker or spontaneous decision-maker. And this again, is tied into a fear factor. And that fear factor is the sense of achieving a quality standard. Those people that really prize having a quality — doing things, not just the right things, but doing the right things the right way — are going to approach decision making very cautiously. They want to consider all the options, “Let’s make sure that we’ve thought this through”.

The person that is spontaneous doesn’t have a “standard quality” as a primary fear factor; they’re just free to yell, “Yeah, let’s do that. Sounds good to me. Let’s go for it.” When you have two people that are in a marriage relationship on opposite ends of that continuum, as Leslie and I are, well, that makes for some pretty interesting conversation (laugh).

You know, Les, you talk about one ingredient that you say is really the secret of emotional connection. Can you explain what that is and why that’s so important to our communication?

I’m so glad you asked that question. If I can kind of wrap up one little box and give it to every couple in the world that gets married it would be a box of empathy. That’s the secret to emotional connection.

You see, once you’ve understood how your partner is hardwired, once you understand their talk style and you understand your own talk style, and you see these talk styles are not necessarily alike — in fact they never are — then you come back to creating a safety zone for this person, eliminating their fear factor by putting yourself in their shoes. And that’s what empathy is about. It’s that capacity to see the world from their perspective.

And you know that research shows us that 90% of the issues that we struggle with in our relationship, 90% of them, would be resolved if we did nothing other than see that issue from our partner’s perspective.

I found a chapter in here to be really interesting, especially the title. It’s something about when couples shouldn’t talk, when not to talk. Can you tell us about that chapter a little bit?

Yeah. You know, it’s kind of almost heretical for two relationship “experts” and authors to write a book on communication and say, “Stop talking.” But it’s really what we’re getting at here in this particular chapter.

It’s been said that silence has more eloquence than speech. And that’s really true. If you know when to stop talking you can communicate volumes. And in that particular chapter, we give you several specific areas and times and moments when you need to do just that.

For example, you need to stop talking when one of you isn’t ready to talk. And that sounds kind of obvious, but we need to be reminded of that.

We also say, “Stop talking when you’ve said it a million times.” Every couple has these conversations, “How many times have I told you to put your coat over here? It bugs me when you put it over the back of your chair.” Well, if you’ve had that conversation for three years now, let it go. It’s not going to change. Quit having the conversation. Stop talking about it.

Well, the incredible thing that I really liked about the book, in addition to the content, was the obvious opening of your hearts and your lives to share with us the readers, because you talk about things that happened, as you referred to earlier, that were pretty recent. In some cases, even the morning of your writing of this particular chapter or something. All that being said, how has this book made a difference in your own relationship?

Well, for us, I’ll tell you something. The real eye opener came in kind of wrapping our heads around the concept of fear factors. And just to remind our listeners, we kind of have an acronym, it’s not in the book, it really is TALQ: time, approval, loyalty and quality. Those are the four fear factors.

In our own relationship, when Leslie began to see, “Oh, man, time is such an important variable for him in conversation”, guess what? All of a sudden she had more patience for me, when I became impatient. She had more grace for me in our conversations when I was a jerk.

And it goes both ways. When I realized how unbelievably strong her need for approval is from me, I could all of a sudden see why we have communication meltdowns when she feels like she’s fearing the loss of approval from me. And when I realize, “Oh, I’ve stepped on her fear factor”, man, I have more grace and more patience for her as well. So really this book comes from the heart. This has made a true difference in our own relationship.

Copyright © 2004 Growthtrac.

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About Jim Mueller

bio-jim-muellerJim is the founder, with wife, Sheri, of Growthtrac Ministries as well as Program Director of GrowthtracRadio and the architect behind growthtrac.com. Jim holds a B.S. in business management and is a facilitator for PREPARE/ENRICH, the most widely used customized couple assessment tool. He has authored numerous articles, interviewed leading relationship experts, and Christian artists, and has contributed to Dr. Les Parrott’s book, The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring. Jim has worked for more than 15 years to help premarital couples and married couples build and maintain healthy relationships.


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