Deep listening.

When was the last time you felt heard?

Listening, truly listening–without an agenda, without interrupting, without offering solutions or fixes, without criticism or judgment–is a rare thing. But it is vital to relationships. And it is a gift to be in a position to listen. Someone is trusting you with their story, their feelings, their hurts and hopes. That is precious. How can we best listen to each other?

In this thoughtful article, Martha Caldwell offers advise for listening compassionately in the classroom that really applies well to any situation. As a compassionate environment transforms a classroom, it too transforms any relationship. Consider her suggestions:

1. Be fully present. We bear witness to someone’s felt experience by giving them our complete and undivided attention. Paying full attention when someone is speaking creates safety and focus in the classroom. Compassionate listeners maintain complete silence and pay attention not only to words they hear, but also to facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, noticing even the silences between words.

2. Know listening is enough. Listening with deep attention involves a calm, relaxed state of mind, free of the desire to “fix” someone or solve their problems for them. It does not involve giving advice or intervening in any way. If our minds are busy coming up with solutions for the speaker, we fail to truly listen.

3. Respond with acceptance. Deep listeners are motivated by the desire to understand how others feel and how their experiences have affected them. Their genuine interest and heartfelt concern make it safe for others to share their vulnerabilities because they sense that what they say will be received without judgement.

4. Understand conflict as part of real-life learning. A learning community in which people are encouraged to be honest and express how they feel involves a degree of risk. Conflict may arise. Sometimes this happens, and working through difficult feelings may take time. However, when we stay connected and stick with the process, conflict can be a catalyst for positive change. When conflict can be resolved, relationships often become stronger.

5. Ask authentic questions to learn more. By asking open-ended questions like “What was that like for you?,” “Can you tell me more about that?,” or “What were you experiencing?,” compassionate listeners guide speakers to share more deeply. These questions are motivated by the desire to honestly learn more (as opposed to reinforcing preconceived notions). If they think they may not have understood something, listeners can repeat back what they think they heard and ask for clarification. “Did I hear that right?”

6. Be gentle with yourself. Deep listening involves compassion for yourself as well as for others. Accept yourself and your internal feeling responses without judgement. Allow yourself time to process and learn.

7. Treat the candidness of others as a gift. Honor the trust others have placed in you and keep what you hear confidential.

Today, listen deeply and be grateful that someone is trusting you with their story.

The hard conversations.

In this increasingly polarized world, how do we come together to solve the very real challenges we are facing? If conversations with those who disagree lead to broken relationships rather than common ground, how will we work together?

In this insightful article, Kern Beare offers some insights:

Prioritize the relationship over being right. Research shows that our fight/flee/freeze survival drive is often triggered when someone challenges our deeply held beliefs. Research also shows that when that happens, we lose a host of cognitive capacities that are at the heart of being human, including empathy, moral reasoning and even intuition. Bereft of these capacities, the conversation — and sometimes the relationship itself — typically comes to an unsatisfying and even ugly end.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Evidence abounds that differences in values, attitudes, and beliefs become far less significant when a deeper basis of relationship is formed — especially when it’s rooted in our common humanity. [It’s important to] learn strategies for building such relationships, in turn strengthening the critical capacities you need for creative engagement.

See beyond your story. Most of us have the (often unconscious) assumption that our “story” — the particular set of life experiences from which we derive our sense of self — is the totality of who we are. This merging of “self” and “story” explains one of the most surprising findings of neurobiology: threats to our story-self — to our values, attitudes and beliefs — activate the same parts of our brain as threats to our physical self, triggering our fight, flee, or freeze reactions. When this happens, simmering disagreements can quickly become combustible.

At the same time, we’re learning that our identity encompasses far more than our story. Studies show that a more expanded sense of self emerges when we “switch off” our story-self, unleashing a host of positive emotions and attributes. These include joy, compassion, gratitude, flexibility, creativity and receptivity to new ideas — all of which counteract our survival drive instinct. [Learning] more about this “expanded self” [can help us] to access its capacities.

Transform resistance into response. Resistance is our early-warning system that our survival drive is beginning to kick into gear. When we’re in resistance, our attention narrows, our heart rate increases, and our stress levels rise — all signals of an emerging fight, flee, or freeze reaction. The neuropsychology of resistance [helps inform] why transforming our resistance into response strengthens our cognitive capacities, and how the brain has evolved to actually help us undergo this transformative process.

Preface to the book: Difficult Conversations: The Art and Science of Working Together by Kern Beare

Perhaps these strategies can change the thermostat in our conversations and help us reach a place where we can work together to solve the problems ahead.

Savor the little things.

For better or worse, we have pushed a collective pause button. Our world just got narrower on the outside. Perhaps this is the time to broaden it on the inside. Enjoy the moments. Reach out to people to check in and tell them you care. Savor the little things. Pause and reflect.

Struggle.

struggle

Love isn’t a feeling we fall in and out of. It’s an action we choose to take even when it may be challenging. Sometimes it brings pain. When we think of love as an active verb, like, as Mr. Rogers suggests above, ‘struggle’, rather than as an emotion, it opens our eyes to the fact that we must work at it. It’s a struggle, a constant readjustment and tinkering, constantly expanding our own understanding and empathy. Love is not molding someone to our vision of what they should be, but accepting who they are and supporting them as they blossom. Thinking of love as something more akin to struggle encourages us to keep looking for new and better ways to show up for the people in our lives, to view the relationships as evolving rather than static, and to appreciate all the little successes and breakthroughs in those relationships along the way.

Struggle.

struggle

Love isn’t a feeling we fall in and out of. It’s an action we choose to take even when it may be challenging. Sometimes it brings pain. When we think of love as an active verb, like, as Mr. Rogers suggests above, ‘struggle’, rather than as an emotion, it opens our eyes to the fact that we must work at it. It’s a struggle, a constant readjustment and tinkering, constantly expanding our own understanding and empathy. Love is not molding someone to our vision of what they should be, but accepting who they are and supporting them as they blossom. Thinking of love as something more akin to struggle encourages us to keep looking for new and better ways to show up for the people in our lives, to view the relationships as evolving rather than static, and to appreciate all the little successes and breakthroughs in those relationships along the way.

Are we too good at goodbyes?

 

goodbye

Has it become too easy to slam the door on someone else? Forget about them, move on, find someone new, start over, or, worse, never let anyone close to us again? If it is too easy, what has been lost?

Our relationships are bound to be imperfect because they are made up of imperfect people coming at the world in different ways with different lived experiences. (Even our relationship with ourself is imperfect because each of us is flawed.) But while these differences do provide a potential for friction, they also provide a potential for growth and empathy. We can step back and try to see the world from someone else’s point of view; our perspective becomes broader and more true. We become more thoughtful. We can practice forgiveness, as we would hope to be forgiven if we made a mistake. We can open ourselves up to trust again.

Goodbye, particularly with the people you love and trust and who help you blossom into who you were meant to be, needs to be hard. Very hard. We will become smaller people if we shut ourselves off if a relationship falters. We will become hard if we insist on perfection from ourselves or others.  We will not blossom, but will wither, if we refuse to forgive.

To understand just how sad it is when goodbyes become too easy, listen to this tear-jerker by Sam Smith:

Too Good at Goodbyes

by Sam Smith

You must think that I’m stupid
You must think that I’m a fool
You must think that I’m new to this
But I have seen this all before

I’m never gonna let you close to me
Even though you mean the most to me
‘Cause every time I open up, it hurts
So I’m never gonna get too close to you
Even when I mean the most to you
In case you go and leave me in the dirt

And every time you hurt me, the less that I cry
And every time you leave me, the quicker these tears dry
And every time you walk out, the less I love you
Baby, we don’t stand a chance, it’s sad but it’s true

I’m way too good at goodbyes
(I’m way too good at goodbyes)
I’m way too good at goodbyes
(I’m way too good at goodbyes)

I know you’re thinkin’ I’m heartless
I know you’re thinkin’ I’m cold
I’m just protectin’ my innocence
I’m just protectin’ my soul

I’m never gonna let you close to me
Even though you mean the most to me
‘Cause every time I open up, it hurts
So I’m never gonna get too close to you
Even when I mean the most to you
In case you go and leave me in the dirt

And every time you hurt me, the less that I cry
And every time you leave me, the quicker these tears dry
And every time you walk out, the less I love you
Baby, we don’t stand a chance, it’s sad but it’s true

I’m way too good at goodbyes
(I’m way too good at goodbyes)
I’m way too good at goodbyes
(I’m way too good at goodbyes)

 

So, maybe, it’s time to get better at fighting through the rough stuff in order to get to better, deeper, truer relationships. It’s time to be bad at goodbyes.

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Is it time for a tune-up?

maintenance

Everything falls apart. Cars, buildings, peace, relationships, houses. That’s not pessimism; it’s entropy. In our quest for more, better, and brighter stuff, sometimes we forget about the energy that goes into maintaining the things we already have. In our dogged courtship and pursuit of a loved one, sometimes we forget the importance of maintaining the close relationship after we’ve sealed the deal. After reading all the books on childbirth, we sometimes forget the time and attention that goes into building a healthy relationship with a child, then teen, then adult.

If we neglect our things or relationships, they will suffer. But we don’t have to be content with this. With attention and care, anything will shine–even our most important relationships.

Take a self-exam. Consider where you put your time and energy. Does anything in your life need a tune-up?

Sorry. Not sorry?

goodapology

Some apologies make things worse. They don’t feel like apologies at all. They feel, instead, like just more hurt. Other apologies acknowledge the wound and help it heal. What makes the difference?

In When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love, Gary Chapman (of Five Love Languages fame) and Jennifer Thomas suggest that a true apology must have six characteristics:

Expressing regret–It’s important for an apology to be for something you did or said.  The more specific, the more it acknowledges the harm caused, the better. “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive,” doesn’t really feel like an apology because it is just restating some perceived flaw in the victim and isn’t focussing on anything you did wrong. Even if the harm was wholly unintended, when your actions cause another person pain, an apology is warranted. It goes to the very essence of the apology: I did not mean to hurt you.

Accepting responsibility— Yes, the pressures of the world can sometimes lead us to get wound up and stressed and to hurt other people, but that does not make it the world’s fault. We control ourselves. We are responsible if we act badly. Blaming the boss, the dog, the economy, the other drivers is deflecting. Apologies for the state of the world or all its ills will not feel like a real apology to the person you lashed out at. Apologizing for losing your temper or not considering the effects of your actions will.

Making restitution–“How can I make it right?” are powerful words. It shows an acknowledgement that what you did caused someone else harm. Maybe you can’t make it right. Maybe you can never make it right. But listening to the victim explain the damage is a powerful step forward in the process. Listening here is key–no justifying your actions, no quarreling with the facts, no defenses, just listening to the other person share their perspective. If there is something you can do to make things better, do that thing.

Genuinely repenting–If you are truly sorry, and have listened deeply to the pain you’ve caused, you will not want to cause that person pain again. You will stop causing the damage. You will want to change. Maybe you will need to write down the steps you want to take to prevent causing further harm. Maybe you will slip up and need to start again. But the most important thing is that you will try to not do this again. Otherwise, are you really sorry?

Requesting Forgiveness–“Can you forgive me?” are powerful words. They show you care about the relationship. They show you understand you did things wrong. They show you are not in control of the relationship.

Everyone messes up. Not everyone takes responsibility for messing up. When we do take responsibility for the harm we’ve caused, it may strengthen our relationships and help them grow stronger. Trust can reenter, fostering healing.

Randy Pausch, the author of the quote above, gave a powerful Last Lecture before he died young of pancreatic cancer. His timeless words can teach us all a lesson about life and living.