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Watch Doors Open for Collaboration with Smart Questions and Boundaries

Get your IMAGO on and connect

Lauren Miller //October 5, 2017//

Watch Doors Open for Collaboration with Smart Questions and Boundaries

Get your IMAGO on and connect

Lauren Miller //October 5, 2017//

Let's face it: relationships can be a source of a lot of stress especially when we do not have ground rules in place. Just as the yellow flag in football is used to indicate illegal conduct, so too we need an infrastructure (a process and structure) to minimize below-the-line behavior (stone walling, ugly talk and defensive behavior) and maximize healthy, authentic connections as we create a safe space for effective conversation.


IMAGO is Latin for image and is a very powerful infrastructure on which to build effective dialogue. It is based on validation, rather than problem solving. The theory has been around for a long time and was simplified in the book “Getting the Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix and Hellen LaKelly Hunt.

Similar to many energy psychology modalities, IMAGO reflects images from childhood that developed your perceptions, assumption and reactions. For example, if you grew up with images from your childhood that reflected a theme of: “I need to be perfect in order to be loved and accepted,” or, “It’s never good enough no matter how hard I try,” then any feedback will potentially spin you into a emotional head space of lack and scarcity. Remember, stress is the power you give to outside circumstance to define your worth, value and capability; so when you have background noise during interactions with other people that whispers a message of "not-enough-ness," you will be very sensitive to feedback, even if it is constructive.


IMAGO dialogue allows for validation to replace tension that often accompanies the need to solve a problem quickly, allowing for psychological safety and supporting effective flow of meaning. IMAGO dialogue can provide solutions in the presence of validation and empathy: I get what you feel. Many times, in dialogue that focuses on finding a solution, ego comes in along with the need to be right, which prevents the solution from emerging and isolates both parties.

As a human being feels validated, the frontal cortex of the brain is activated – responsible for executive functioning: the ability to effectively manage oneself and available resources to achieve a desired goal. The first step in Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify one’s own emotions; the second step is the ability to manage one’s emotions.

Take a moment to identify your emotional response in the following questions:

  • How well do you feel you are in touch with your own emotions?
  • On a scale from one to 10, how well do you manage your emotions when another person has a different opinion?
  • What is a familiar emotion that emerges when you feel criticized?


This may feel a little restrictive at first and will get easier as you practice. It is important when you engage in this sort of conversation that all distractions are removed and you give them your full attention, with eye contact.

Mirroring/Summary: Mirror each thing whomever you’re in conversation with says – then ask is there more? If they say no, move along into your summary statement.

Validation: Make a statement something like: “Qhat makes sense to me is … show that you can put yourself in their shoes: “It makes sense to me that when I said that to you, you felt like I was criticizing you and that hurt.” This is so important because too often we feel in dialogue we don’t make sense this step allows for validation: “You make sense.” Too often one person share their point of view and you say yours and miss out on validating each other.

Make a Statement of Empathy: I imagine when this happens you feel hurt or angry … Did I get that? Is this how you felt? We let the receiver of our communication know we understand how they feel.

Practice the IMAGO steps in your relationships this week and observe any positive shifts that occur when you step away from feeling you need to jump in and solve a problem and step into validation and empathy.

Are you in a leadership position? Commit to using effective questions and honoring boundaries that validate emotions and watch the doors open for collaborative connection. Solutions arise in the midst of psychological safety. Effective conflict resolution walks through the archway of validation and empathy.