Have you ever been in conversation with someone and you get the feeling that, for some reason, you’re just not connecting with one another? One of you explains something to the other and frustration continues to build. What’s happening? Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint a discernable problem which can compound any frustration.
Sometimes it’s best to start with the basics to see if you can figure out what went wrong. A fundamental element of dialogue is listening. So many of our conversations start to head off the rails because we’re not listening to each other.
It’s easy to see how this happens. Sometimes we’re sharing things about ourselves that require us to take risks and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Anxiety and fear can accompany this sharing, and it can translate into impatience. We might run into some of our insecurities, which can cloud our interpretation of what someone is saying. Other times we aren’t able to completely regard what someone is communicating because we are thinking of what we’re going to say next. We’re not connecting as fully as we could be. We get into arguments, experience sadness, and feel frustration, all of which could have been prevented if we had listened to what was being said.
Most of us have experienced “the strategist.” Or some of us might be the strategist! I’m talking about the role some people play during a conversation in which they can hear some amount of distress and respond by attempting to fix the problem. What often happens is this; the strategist’s conversational counterpart describes a situation or an experience that has caused or is causing discomfort. Usually, in the spirit of support, the strategist starts to troubleshoot the problem (“Have you tried this? What about that? You know, you should…”). They’re not present with the other person. They’re not listening as much as they are reacting.
We experience the most support and connection when someone empathically listens to us, someone who wants to know about our whole experience (thoughts, feelings, behaviors), someone who wants to understand how we are impacted. Sometimes it feels like a challenge. For instance, when we are in conflict with someone, we might feel a little bit tempted to defend ourselves, place blame, or think of our next response while they’re speaking. I understand the pull here, and it’s not worth it. It often leaves us feeling worse.
Try this. Next time you’re in a conversation, set aside any distractions (including any distracting thoughts) and listen to what the other person is saying about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Resist trying to fix, defend, or explain anything. Allow the other person to communicate their experience and allow yourself to lend a robust ear. If you hear that frustration is a part of their experience, speak to it. If they sound overwhelmed, scared or confused, let them know you see this. If their feelings are a direct result of something you have done/not done or said, it’s ok. Do it anyway; all the better that you do. You don’t have to defend yourself or explain anything right now. Just listen and let them know that you are witnessing their experience.
See where this experiment takes you. See how you feel, how the other person responds to you. The benefits are undeniable. The more you do it, the more it works. Let me know how it goes!
Love and Be Loved,