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Relationship 101: What’s Attunement?

Written by Bill Moore on

In Genesis 2:18 God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

This declaration means that we are not capable of seeing every place where we are broken and we are not capable of fixing every issue on our own. Every single person needs someone at some point to provide something for them they cannot provide on their own.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote,

 “From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16).

Paul clearly believes every person plays a part in helping each other grow, and the Bible clearly teaches that we need each other.

A Humble Transformation

Many who attend a Bible Study believe all they need to do is learn the Bible and that by learning the Bible they can solve or fix all their problems on their own. The Bible makes it clear that is not true. In fact, the devil was kicked out of heaven for trying to be like God. We cannot become like God by learning or doing enough. It is only when we learn to humbly come to the Lord, that he changes our hearts to better reflect his own. This is what we see in the friendship between Jesus with the twelve disciples.

To be leaders—in our families, our places of work, and our friendships—we need to discover what people need. We ought to help provide for those needs to the best of our ability, just as we honestly come to others and confess our needs as well. This is biblical friendship, and living in the community of friendship draws us closer to the Lord.

What Is Attunement?

Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

This wisdom from Proverbs can help us as we seek to love others well, namely, by pointing us to attunement.

What is attunement? Attunement is allowing yourself to enter the inner world of another person while restraining your own emotional experience. It is the act of entering into another person’s emotions, regardless of your thoughts on what is true or valid about their feelings or beliefs. It is an immersion into their world.

Attunement is one of the most important skills for helping discover what others need. Learning it can help us develop as leaders at home, at work, and in our personal relationships. Why? Because relationships are emotional in nature.

As Dr. Tronick’s Still Face Experiment powerfully demonstrates, our interactions with others hold great weight when it comes to their emotional wellbeing. In the experiment, we see how visible, emotional connection with a baby’s mother impacts the baby’s response. When the mother doesn’t react or acknowledge the child, the child becomes visibly distressed.

As adults, we have those same needs and the power to impact another human emotionally.

How Do We Practice Attunement?

We attune to others by observing, listening carefully, and asking good follow-up questions. Examples of this include:

  • Listening to their words and tone of voice
  • Paying attention to the timing and intensity of their responses
  • Observing eye contact, facial expressions, posture, and gestures
  • Asking probing questions to better discover what they are feeling

Conversely, we hurt our ability to attune when we:

  • Quickly share our own ideas, trying to provide a solution
  • Allow our past memories to control our understanding of the person’s experience
  • Let uncomfortable feelings dictate our response or actions
  • Cut things short because we don’t want to take time to listen

Though it’s not always natural, the skill of attunement can be learned through practice. When we focus on attuning during conversations with our spouses, children, coworkers, and friends, we will start to experience new depths of closeness and intimacy in our relationships.

As we work hard at attuning, we will find ourselves feeling less lonely and more respected. We will help others feel more known and loved, and we will likely experience those same sentiments ourselves.

Bill Moore

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