Having a Difficult Conversation Without Engaging in Emotional Warfare – Part III
To truly listen to another is a form of grace. Listening deeply means we allow the other to come into our mind and heart, to entertain them in the home of our Self. We accommodate room for them to express themselves without leaving them alone in their thoughts and feelings. This attitude of grace is very hard to maintain when the conversation becomes heated. Asdistressing emotions are building, it is natural to want to defend and protect ourselves. When our loved one is emotionally fragile, they may use hurtful words to express the pain they are experiencing, or even intentionally cause hurt. If the words become abusive or damaging, we have to shut the door on the conversation for the time being. Hopefully, using the mindset of being nonjudgmental, providing acceptance and giving validation helps set the tone of a productive conversation (the HOW described in Part I).
Talking carefully through the facts, perceptions and feelings to reveal deeper needs can help slow down the interaction to avoid blaming and other triggers that may lead to attacking or defensive behaviors in one another (the WHAT described in Part II). Even so, listening when someone you love is telling you about their perception which you may not agree with, about their emotion which you may wish they didn’t have, and about their needs that may have been neglected or unknown is very difficult. As the listener in particular, it’s important to not “take in” blame or accusation (even if it may be present) so that you can understand what is being shared.
Within the WHAT structure of the conversation, as the speaker is sharing their perceptions, feelings and needs, your main job is to listen carefully. Focus on not interrupting unless it is to ask about for more detail what the speaker is saying and to understand them more deeply. Knowing that you have both already agreed on the facts and that you will each take turns can help with the tendency to “jump in” and respond. As the listener, focus on suspending your point of view so that you can listen for what is being said as well as the meaning that is being expressed.
Allow yourself to listen non-judgmentally, with acceptance and validation, knowing that hearing well does not diminish your own point of view on the situation. In other words, just because you let them into your (inner) world to express themselves doesn’t mean they are taking over your world. Once they are done going through the steps, reflect back a summary of what is being said (“so you are saying…”) and let them know you understand. Validate what is being said (“it makes sense that you would feel angry, given the perception you had…”) as often as possible.
CALL TO ACTION: think about the people in your life with whom you have the greatest ease in listening openly to them. Is there anything about them, their style of communicating, the relationship with them that makes it easier? Think back to times when you had a really hard time listening to another person. What made it difficult? Are there any “hot button” issues, comments or attitudes that make you more likely to be defensive and shut down your listening?
While there is no “quick fix” for emotionally intense conversations, using these HOW and WHAT methods often help keep things calm enough so that everyone can be heard. This gives the best chance for peace and resolution, rather than continued chaos.