We can bolster our bonds with others simply by the language we use. Just using a 3-word phrase can help you gain a deeper, fuller understanding of another person. It can help you convey that you deeply care for them. It can help you communicate, I see you. I hear you. I’m here for you, exactly as you are.
Our words can also cultivate our connection with ourselves. They can give us a deeper, fuller understanding of our own emotional lives and convey the same compassionate sentiments: Your feelings, thoughts, and concerns are valid. You are accepted as you are.
According to therapist and author Linda Carroll, MS, in her new insightful book Love Skills: The Keys to Unlocking Lasting, Wholehearted Love, these three magic words are: “Tell me more.”
So, the next time you’re talking to someone, respond by saying: Tell me more. You might be surprised by what comes up. And they might be, too.
Carroll includes this illuminating example between two partners in Love Skills:
Shanice: I had a tough day today.
Evan: Oh, your job is always getting you down. Or, I’m worried that you’re not getting enough sleep. Or, Well, the problem is that your boss is a jerk.
As she writes, when Evan uses “Tell me more,” the conversation goes very differently:
Shanice: I had a tough day today.
Evan: Oh? Tell me more.
Shanice: My mind just isn’t on my work.
Evan: What are you thinking about?
Shanice: I’ve been thinking about my grandfather a lot lately for some reason. He’s on my mind so much that I can’t seem to focus like I want to.
Evan: That’s interesting. What is it about your grandfather that’s gotten your attention?
Shanice: Well, he was so important to me when I was a kid, and I miss him a lot. Oh wow, I just realized the tenth anniversary of his death is this week.
Evan: How do you think that’s affecting you?
Shanice: Well, until this morning, I hadn’t realized it was the anniversary. Until we started talking, I had no idea why I’ve been so distracted. Huh. You know, I think I need to spend some time with my grandmother. Visiting Grandma is exactly what I need to do. I bet she’s missing him too. We can miss him together.
When using these three words, the key is to practice deep listening: Don’t interrupt or judge. Don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Try to focus fully (instead of getting distracted by your phone or the thoughts swirling inside your mind). The intention is to understand their perspective (even if you disagree).
Pay attention to the person’s nonverbal cues (again without making assumptions about what they mean). According to Carroll, this includes observing everything from their eyes to their body language to their tone.
With deep listening, you also ask questions and encourage the person to elaborate, writes Carroll. You help the person to feel comfortable and never shame them for what they share.
And these are all things we can do for ourselves. I think “Tell me more” is an invaluable journaling prompt. It’s a great tool for checking in with yourself on a daily basis to better understand your internal landscape. It’s also a great tool for finding solutions for seemingly stubborn problems.
For example, a journal entry might look like:
I’ve been so angry today. Tell me more. I just keep snapping at everyone, and I’m not sure why. Tell me more. I keep thinking that nothing is working out well at all. Tell me more. I’m actually frustrated about a work project, and I’m frustrated that my partner and I seem to be on a different page. Tell me more. I really need to talk to my team about the project. I’ll see if my partner wants to eat out this weekend. A date night always helps us reconnect.
“Listening is one of the most powerful ways we let other people know they are important to us,” Carroll writes. And it’s also one of the most powerful ways we care for ourselves.