Do you remember the lessons you were taught in school about how to listen constructively and to do so with a willingness to understand and not just to respond? NO?? Well, neither do I. It didn’t happen.
See if this looks about right for you. For whatever reason you begin a discussion on any difficult topic with your significant other. It might begin with some superlative negative…”You always,” “you never…”
Immediately you go into defensive mode. Your response begins with figuring out how you are going to respond when there is a break in the conversation. You then deliver your carefully crafted defense of your position and the process repeats going the other way…wash, rinse, repeat.
You two finally run out of gas and just stop. Nothing gets settled and each of you has taken a chunk out of the other and a piece of your relationship suffers damage. Over time those damages can prove to be fatal.
If this sounds like you, there is a better way. It starts with two basic skills: 1) developing good boundaries and 2) learning to listen to understand rather than to respond. Here’s how:
Difficult conversations require you to find a ‘safe place‘ (not like what current snowflakes seem to need these days)…a safe place where you can listen dispassionately to what you are about to hear. Picture in your mind the safest place you can go mentally to avoid taking a hit on what you are about to hear. Some envision a bullet proof cabinet or a bomb shelter where nothing can harm you or cause you to become defensive.
Once you get that mental picture in place, you can decide what gets through your mental defenses. You alone can decide what you let it…whether it is true or not. Then you alone can decide to reject what you do not accept as truth. Finally, you give yourself permission to let in things you hear you are not quite certain are true or not. You reserve the right to think about things you are not certain about and can keep it if true or throw it out if it is not. Practice that before you begin a conversation.
LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND
More on this next time, but for now, once you are secure inside your protective place, start repeating this mantra to yourself:
• What I am about to hear is more about him/her than it is about me.
• What I am about to hear is not all about current events
•What I am about to hear is all about listening to the feelings behind the words.
Next time some more critical learned skills on how to put this to work.