Boring Questions & Alive Answers
Ever been in a job interview and felt like you were a robot answering questions and telling the interviewer what you think they want to hear? You might have walked away feeling a bit lifeless and disconnected. This can happen in any situation of course. Sometimes asking, what seem like boring and robotic questions to you, is someone's only strategy for trying to connect. In other cases, like work situations, questions follow a script that has long since lost it's real purpose.
Part of the consciousness of Nonviolent Communication is connecting to what is most alive you and others in any context. When interviewers or others stumble about with questions and comments that don't access what's alive, it doesn't mean they don't want the real alive you to show up. That person may just not know how to invite what's alive and true.
Honest expression and empathy are two fundamental ways to access aliveness in the moment.
What follows is an example of finding alivenes in not so alive questions. In the following example, imagine that I am being interviewed by a principal for a year long program to teach high school teachers NVC.
Principal: What past experience do you have in training school teachers?
Me: (first, I notice how bored I feel thinking about reciting a list trainings I have done. I start with what's alive for me (honest expression) related to her question and if she wants a list I can type that up or summarize it after I share what's alive for me.)
What I have enjoyed recently is working with teachers at a school in Milwaukie. It was fulfilling to experience shifts in a staff of 50 people. I saw people cry, ask new questions, soften, and relax as they really felt heard by other staff members. I could tell by the questions they asked that they were struggling with relationships in their staff and that they were willing to face that struggle and experiment with new ways of communicating. I was also excited hearing how they planned to bring this skill to their interactions with students. I had a vision that the ripples of change could touch the entire community if this staff continued to cultivate this consciousness and set of tools.
Principal: Are you familiar with the state requirements for our teachers?
Me: (I offer a guess at what's really important to her in this question). Are you wanting a sense of my understanding of their world?
Principal: Well, yes, my teachers have a lot on their plate.
Me: (I make a guess about the needs she wants considered). Yea, it's essential to really meet them where they are and consider the issues they are facing. They have pressure from the state to meet particular standards and at the same time work to meet the particular needs of students and parents. In addition to that, they are working to create a safe environment where students can learn and thrive. On top of all this are their relationships with other staff and issues of resources and support. It's very complicated to balance all of this. Is this what you are wanting consideration around?
Whatever the situation, interviewing for work, chatting on the coffee break at church, or visiting with distant relatives, a conversation can become more engaging and satisfying, by looking for and responding to what's alive. Three principles are helpful with this practice. One, commit to making at least one attempt to find aliveness before giving up on a conversation. Two, use the feeling of boredom or disconnect as a sign that you are receiving someone's words at face value. Give yourself permission to ignore the content of what someone is saying for a moment. (Sometimes the content is a distraction from what's happening). Ask yourself; what's really alive for you or the other person right now? Third, give yourself permission to break the politeness protocal that has you follow a thread of conversation out of obligation. Interrupt, to connect. Here are some examples of interrupting to connect:
"As I hear the details of where you stayed and what you did on your trip, I feel curious about what you felt while you were there. What was most fulfilling or surprising or disappointing?"
"I know you asked me about work, but I would rather tell you about this new class I am taking. Wanna hear about it?"
"So it sounds like what was most meaningful for you was...?"
This week watch for a boring conversation. As soon as you find yourself in one, ask yourself "How can I connect to what's most alive right now?" It's okay just to start by doing this practice internally first. As you practice it silently you will gain confidence and clarity and be more able to jump in and collaborate with the other person to find what's most alive.