Toolbox: The Satir Interaction Model

Why is communication sometime so hard?  Virginia Satir broke apart the processes that take place within our brains as we get a message and respond to it  into the four step Satir Interaction Model.

In this model communcation folllows four major steps.  First, in the Intake step, we perceive what’s happening and take in information with our senses.  In the second step, we assign a Meaning to the communication we’ve heard.  Next we evaluate the Significance of the communcation – is it a threat?  Are we safe in the situation or not? Is what’s happening important?   And last, we apply internal rules for commenting to formulate an appropriate Response.

We zoom through all these steps, normally in a fraction of a second, and most often without any conscious awareness of what’s happening. But each step has pitfalls at which things can go wrong.  For example, Intake can go wrong by mishearing someone or simply not paying attention; the meaning and motivation that we ascribe to a a speaker may be incorrect; the understanding that we form will trigger feelings within us that may not be pleasant, or may not be wholly related to the conversation at hand;  last but not least, our internal shaping of a response is often governed by what’s polite or appropriate or by feeling the need to conceal the feelings and meanings that came up in earlier steps of the interaction.

And next the person we’re conversing with goes through all those steps within their own head and starts the process all over again. It’s a wonder anything ever gets heard and understood!

The more complete description of the model includes some responses to take when things start to go wrong.

The effort to slow down and take apart our internal interactions pays off. We’re clearer about what we mean and why we’re saying what we’re saying. And we may notice choices that we didn’t know we had.

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