Every message a person tries to convey to another person has two components to it, the content of the message, and the feeling or attitude associated with the content. Both are critically important, as both give context and meaning to the information being shared.
In some instances, the content of a story is less important than the feelings associated with it.
In fact, sometimes the content may be a complete distortion or a fabrication. Regardless, the person may believe the story because the story has a specific meaning to the person. Consequently, it is critical that we try to catch the full flavor of meaning underlying the story.
Do they believe that they are going to lose all of their teeth no matter what they do? Do they believe that it is normal to lose all of their teeth? Do they believe that they are not worthy of investing in themselves through dentistry? Do they believe that all dental work fails and is a bad investment? Do they believe that most dentists are dishonest? Do they believe that their problems cannot be resolved?
To discover meaning, we must respond to the feeling component of their communication:
“You seem really upset about this, can you tell me more about it?” “I can see that you are really anxious, can you help me to understand why you feel this way?” “You seem really frustrated – even angry about what happened. Can you tell me more about it? Do you think you will ever be able to work with another dentist?”
We are attempting to discover is what their story really means to them. How do they see this story and their current situation affecting them going forward? How important is it to them that they resolve their current situation? Do they even know what their situation really is?