Is it more important for me to correct their misstatements or to stay present and listen?
Would I rather be right or engage in genuine dialogue?
Am I judging or listening?
In my last post, Silence: A Relationship Killer, we explored the ruinous consequences that intentional silence has on relationships. Silence is antithetical to healthy communicating. Very often people may resort to silence because they anticipate that what they need to say will fall on deaf ears or, worse still, invite an angry reaction. Anticipating that roadblock, we may choose silence. There is a better way, however. Let’s look at how we can navigate these sensitive communications successfully.
When we initiate a challenging discussion, it’s more than likely that the other party may not truly be listening. Their negative reaction may be triggered by specific words or topics, our tone, or body language, but it is most likely anchored in the memory of past impasses and unresolved conflicts. More often than not, the other person appears to be defending their territory and preparing their rebuttal while we’re still trying to articulate our thoughts, and vice-versa of course. Your sentence may not be complete before the other person’s reaction has begun. The futility of not being heard becomes a primary reason why people may default to silence. Read more
While I was in the midst of delivering a somewhat provocative talk on the subject of change, a gentleman in the audience indicated that he had a question. As he began to speak, it was evident from both his tone and his question that he was challenging the material that I was sharing. Simply stated, his core belief was that people don’t change, and he suggested that I was being an idealist. Little could he have imagined that I welcome the charge of idealism, for this is what inspires us to higher levels – and so I caught him by surprise when I thanked him for the compliment.
Nevertheless, his tone remained quite charged as he continued to assert his position. My presentation was evidently offending his beliefs. I noticed my reaction arising and felt a surging desire to prove him wrong and reveal the flaw in his thinking. Thankfully, I didn’t attach to my reaction. I witnessed the emotion and came into a space that permitted a more authentic response. In the space of a few nanoseconds I quieted myself and felt a question arising from within. It emerged from a deeper place and it took form in the words, “May I ask what informs your belief?”
Learning to remain present and not get drawn into the right or wrong argument requires a willful intention to come out of the groove of an old habit. Typically, in a contentious discussion or argument defending oneself is a trigger reaction. We react defensively and then in turn blame or attack. This type of exchange seems mindless and bears little chance of success. Both people feel invalidated and the chasm between the two only widens.
Yet, even in the worst of adversarial encounters, there are a few charges that might make sense to us. However, our thoughts filter these out as we seek to bolster our argument and not detract from it. Having done so, we remain mired in the ping-pong match that takes us nowhere and invalidates one another. Read more
We take for granted that our words convey exactly what we intend them to. This is a particularly misinformed assumption. I have observed that upon deeper scrutiny, the words, let alone the concepts, tend not to be received in the way the messenger anticipates. By the time a few sentences have passed, we may have a totally missed communication. How often do we pause and considerately ask the other what they mean by the word they are using?
Although this problem is more glaring in confrontational discourse, it impacts amicable conversations as well. “You don’t know how to be intimate,” she exclaims. He retorts, “I don’t know how to be intimate? You’re so angry and cold who would ever want to be intimate with you?” In the following minutes this couple is off to the races, pushing buttons and hurling invective. Read more
In my therapy practice my attention is often focused upon clarity of communication. It’s the cornerstone of successful relationships and a subject that was glaringly omitted from our education. This is a complex subject, but with a little work we can make great strides.
Nowhere is this issue more evident than in the politics of the day. The candidates, their surrogates and the media pundits are all egregiously deficient in some fundamental facets of dialogue. The exchanges, and particularly the heated ones, are absent what I refer to as shared meaning. Listening to argumentation without any agreement as to what we’re actually disagreeing about is absurdly frustrating.
Throughout our life most of our attention is focused on matters that are pertinent to us since they impact us significantly. When we were young we concerned ourselves with what sports to play, what colleges to apply to, what major to select- and as time went by- what job to pursue and perhaps where we […]
For the most part we rarely engage in genuine conversations with one another. We rely upon formatted questions and answers that we exchange with each other, our words resembling ping-pong balls being sent to and fro. We deliver and parse data with each another and ordinarily leave the engagement more or less the same as […]
Too often, when we encounter challenges and conflict in our primary relationships we tend to spiral down very quickly. When we’re in this down cycle, rather than pausing to assess what’s happening, we tend to fall into a reactive debate around who is right or wrong. As we all know this non-rational instinct is ruinous […]