Decoding – The Key to Connecting

Decoding is a critical first step to respectfully connecting with a person who is experiencing negative emotions and expressing those emotions in sometimes harmful or self-harming behaviors.  Three critical steps to decoding someone’s behavior are:

  1. To observe the behavior,
  2. To ask what the person might be feeling, and
  3. To acknowledge their feeling.

A recent example of decoding I used was with a young man I’d not met before whom I was asked to interview.  I introduced myself and asked him if he would mind if I spoke with him.  He sat in the chair, crossed his arms and had a scowl on his face (not a happy camper).

  • My decoding went like this:
    1.  Observe: Tommy, I noticed you have your arms crossed and your jaws clenched,
    2.  Ask: Are you angry? He responded with a yes.
    (If he would have said no, I simply would have asked; What are you feeling?)
    3.  Acknowledge: I can see you’re angry. (An empathic response that provides connection)

I then asked him what caused him to be angry and he said was angry because he was supposed to be at another activity he was looking forward to. We then went on and had a wonderful exchange for about 45 minutes.
I firmly believe that due to this respectful interaction where I observed his behavior, asked about his feeling and acknowledged it, I’d made it through what could have been many layers of resistance.
The crucial part of any conversation is how it begins – Decoding is the key to looking beyond the surface behavior and making that critical connection with the person in distress.

*This decoding process: Observe, Ask, & Acknowledge is the first phase in Satori Alternatives to Managing Aggression designed by Larry Hampton of