These are your options. Choose wisely.
In mindful communication, it’s important to discover the right way to respond uniquely to the situation. Refined to these three categories, see if you agree and how they’re working out for you. I don’t aspire to be an advice columnist, I swear. Just breaking down my own corrective measure notes for you to compare yours with. May it aid to avoid or unlodge the foot from your mouth… or your ass. Enjoy!
“Yes. I hear you. Now would you like me to…”
Receive – with sympathy, Joy or Sorrow.
Just listen, huh? Easier said than done (especially internally). In this mode, I want to remove my self from the transaction. Anything coming my way isn’t coming from me. Here, I want to use sympathy as a means to express authentic appreciation for my partner’s success or failure. I want to hold my comparable feelings or personal examples on the sidelines for when they’re invited into the conversation. That’s for Empathy, who is going to be right there shouting; “Me! Me! Pick me! I know how she feels!” But allow those feelings to just take notes for a little while until it’s time for them to be called on. The danger here is in any amount of minimizing my partner’s exclusive ownership rights to her emotions by saying that I own them too.
But you can’t just listen and sit there like a slug. Respond with caution and care in either direction. In Joy; it’s the difference of stating how proud I am of her, compared to how great I know what she’s done is. In Sorrow; it’s the difference of saying how sorry I am this is happening, compared to how I know how difficult it is.
Relate – with Compassion (empathy)
In this mode, I accept an invitation to the party. This one may be in the majority of all communication scenarios. We want to be relatable and have proof. Anne Lamott’s wrote one of my favorite essays; “Because Guess What? Me Too” and says this in a way much better than I could imagine. The danger here is in the balance. Not to trump our partner, but rather (and only if it’s authentic) share that we are human, just like each other and we’re each OK.
Want a challenge? Check this out: If your partner has a problem, and that problem is you, imagine listening in this third-person sympathy-empathy-compassion way. Like “Wow, it must suck to have to deal with this guy sometimes, I know what that can be like. Man, you’re a saint for having the patience to hang in there, right on!”
or Repair – with Kindness and non-attachment
My go-to: Party-crasher mode. I fix things, man! That’s what I do! Here’s the bottom line; if I haven’t engaged the first part of this transaction well (option 1 and/or 2), all I’m doing is fixing what’s wrong with me, because that’s all I’ve heard and paid attention to so far. Then it’s going to be at the cost of more damage to my partner’s trust and self-esteem. And often times, the repair is already working itself out because all I did was tend to those first two things well. How great is that? I’m a hero and I didn’t even have to get my hands dirty.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still love to try and fix things. But I’m learning to recognize when I wasn’t invited to the party. Or maybe I showed up as that guest that you just had to invite anyway, and now is making a scene. A little courtesy and respect for your partner’s intimacy with their own struggle and attachment to a given problem works well here. Like; “May I offer a suggestion? This is what might work for me in that situation. What would you think about trying ___?”
Then comes the non-attachment part, ooh! That old “It’s the thought that counts” deal… but it really is. Time to let go of your gift, and your expectations. Remembering that generosity, even in an offering of kindness or knowledge is also a form of asking for a gift from the receiver. Their giving is to allow your offering to be heard, let alone accepted. Offering help without a tinge of blame is an art form. Being denied your offering with grace, or having it received with humility is to be down with your Buddha nature.
And your receipt, thank you.
All to often I’ve fallen into my own trap of that ‘ambition to share’ is holding me so captive I forget to extend common courtesies in the midst of engagement in conversation. This can be vital in keeping the air light and hearts open. Any friendly form of acknowledgement throughout communication always seems to be a welcome gesture. Provided it’s truthful, useful, kind and appropriately timed (the basics of a lay-Buddhists’ Wise Speech). I love being heard and loath dismissal or worse, blatant interruption.
I love being heard and loath dismissal or worse, blatant interruption. So there are boundaries to be aware of in this interaction. The value of staying engaged with eye contact and brief verbal nods of acceptance shouldn’t be overlooked but can be overworked. A report on our experience is helpful for both parties too. Stating how we heard what was said as a means to stay on track is a great tool. “What I’m hearing you say is ___.”
And last but not least. Who doesn’t appreciate authentic gratitude or a compliment, no matter how small? “Thanks for sharing, I like what you said there, thanks for listening, you’ve helped me feel better.”
So. Thanks for listening. It makes me feel better.
Please let me know if you enjoyed this and check out www.awarenessmode.com for news on the upcoming book!
(Just for fun…name the 3 movies these images are from?)