Last week I shared a little structure to detox your relationships. And I decided to rekindle my practice of it after a long pause.
To my great surprise, I walked straight into a trap. It’s actually never happened to me before!
Luckily my conversations partner was gracious and bounced straight back with me. Phew!
Here’s what happened:
My partner shared one of his boxes – “box” is how we label our reactiveness, based on the Arbinger Institute’s work – and when he shared his interpretation of what he perceived to be true, I felt misunderstood.
Faster than my better self could stop me, I made a defensive remark.
Given that we’ve had these structured conversations regularly a good while ago, I caught myself quickly and apologized. I was relieved to find that it did not put an end to the conversation.
My impulse, however, reminded me of the important role of the listener.
As listeners, it is our job to hold the space. To shut up and have our full attention on the speaker.
When someone is laying bare their inner life to us, they place trust into us, and they make themselves vulnerable in the most courageous way.
A lack of courage, trust and self regard is why most people hide their inner life from others, even their closest friends and partners.
All the more do we need to commit to listening with an open heart, with compassion and with curiosity. And to do so is easier when we stay aware that their experience is not about us.
When someone shares their reactions and takes full responsibility for them by openly reflecting on their underlying thought patterns and emotions, they invite us into an intimate place. To go there, they need to be able to rely on us to listen.
Therefore, practice this powerful detox structure with someone you trust.
Set the context first and ask for the other to just listen in complete silence until you have fully explored your inner process.
Intention setting is key to staying on track.
To intentionally enter such conversations, both partners need to agree to having a conversation where both share their emotional state and their assumptions and beliefs. Both partners also need to agree to listen to the other without interruption, until they tell us that they are done speaking.
What I experienced yet again this week is that sharing our boxes creates instant intimacy and trust between two people, when we allow each other to share how we perceive the world and how we feel about it and react to it.
Small matters and long standing bones of contention both have a place in these deep conversations.
What if it doesn’t work?
When you find yourself going sideways like me: Apologize and let the other know that you are stepping back into your role of an open minded, intent listener.
When someone else has a reaction while you’re sharing: Stay calm. Simply invite them back into the role of the listener. When you’re done with sharing, they will get to share as well. And a beautiful conversation can arise from that.
So: Keep calm and carry on!
Next week I’ll share how you can bounce back from feeling resistant when you cannot or don’t yet want to clear the air with others.
Until then, let us hear how you’re getting along with this practice. Good luck! You’re doing well!