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Difficult interactions

Difficult interactions with others are inevitable.  What you typically dread or fear about these interactions is not so much what the other person says, but rather how disconnected from your own center and sense of choice you might become.  Regardless of the interaction, the mindfulness and skills that allow you to stay self-connected are essential.

One gem reader, I will call her Carol, gave an example of her own struggle in a difficult interaction with her father-in-law.  She writes:

"He launches into a 30 minute monologue about his back pain, and doesn't take any social cues that I'm not listening anymore, or that I'm hurt that he interrupted me, or that I'm disappointed that he doesn't show any interest in me, only in himself. I just don't have the courage to bust out at the dinner table with saying something like "you know Jon, I noticed that you interrupted me and then talked continuously for 30 min without noticing my bordem. I feel hurt and disconnected and would like to have a conversation that is shared equally, and would like for you to show some genuine interest. Would you be willing to listen to me too? "

The first thing for Carol to consider is how she wants to direct her life energy.  If she rarely sees her father-in-law, maybe she will choose to avoid him.  If however, he is regularly in her life she may need another strategy to maintain self-connection in the face of his behavior.

When in the midst of a difficult interaction, begin with self-empathy.  You may need to start by identifying judgments. In our example, Carol has judgments like, "He's so selfish.  He just wants everything to be about him."  "He's so oblivious to other's needs."  These judgments prevent her from being connected to herself in this difficult interaction.  When her attention is on her judgments, she is unable to access what she really cares about in a given moment and what she might do about that.  Behind Carol's judgments are feelings of hurt and disconnect and her needs for mutuality and consideration.

Once you identify judgments and affirm to yourself that anything said or done from a place of judgment will only add to suffering on all sides.  Then, you have attention available to focus on feelings and needs.  Just naming what feelings and needs might be alive for you will create some immediate self-connection and sense of internal space.  

The next step is to grieve that your needs are not met in the current situation.  Name for yourself that it is not turning out as you hoped it would.  This helps you move into acceptance of the situation.  It is difficult to create change in a positive direction, if you are not willing to acknowledge and fully experience the reality of the present.  I am guessing this is a hard one for our gem reader, Carol.  Maybe she sees that Jon is competent in other areas and can't believe that he doesn't know how disconnecting his monologues are.  She may also long for Jon to be a grandfather she can trust for her child and doesn't want to accept this possible loss. 

Lastly, making some empathy guesses, either silently or aloud, will help you stay connected to your heart.  Unfortunately people have some very ineffective strategies for meeting their needs.  Monologues is one.  When faced with behaviors that don't really meet needs, it's helpful to ask what needs could that person be trying to meet and how could they have arrived at such a behavior? The possible answers to these questions aren't nearly as important as asking them.  Just asking them helps you remember that you are not dealing with an "egomaniac" or whatever else your judgments propose.  You are dealing with a person who is doing the best they can and not having much success.

For example, to promote curiosity rather than judgment, Carol might take some time later when she is not with her father-in-law.  She could make some guesses about Jon's world in addition to guessing his feelings and needs.  She might reflect on how Jon grew up.  Perhaps he was in a family where he had to be the biggest and loudest to get his needs met.  Maybe the ways he learned to communicate in his family are so ineffective that he chronically alienates others and thus his strategies for being seen and heard have become more extreme over time.  The point here is not to analyze Jon, but rather to recognize that there is more to him than the monologue behavior.  This helps Carol get into her heart and center where she can discern wise action.

Going through this process several options may occur to her:

-She could take care of her needs up front by asking for his assurance that he really wants to listen.  For example if Jon asks her how school is going, she could say something like:  "Okay I would like to tell you three things about school, would you really like to hear them?  Okay, let me say all three though. One is . . . "

-She could frame Jon's talking as an opportunity to practice empathy by interrupting him frequently:  "Jon, Jon, hang on I want to see if I am hearing you so far. It sounds like . . . "

-She could silently empathize with herself and then Jon as he talks.

What's important here is that you can maintain enough self-connection in a difficult interaction to make a choice about what will work for you based on your sense of all the needs present in a given situation and the long term effects of your action.  Your choice may not turn out "perfectly", but it is still considerably better than imagining you have no choice.

Practice
This week if you find yourself in a difficult exchange with another, either in the moment or later in reflection work through the steps named above.  Here they are again in summary:

1.  Self-Empathy:  name any judgments, then ask yourself, "What am I feeling?  What do I care most about right now?"

2. Grieve: Name for yourself that the interaction is not going as you had hoped and allow yourself the space to feel grief or disappointment.

3.  Empathy: Make empathy guesses for the other person.  Reflect on the broader context of their life.  Remind yourself that everyone is doing the best they can in the moment.

4.  Requests / Action: Make a plan for how you would like to stay self-connected in a future similiar kind of interaction.

 

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Tired of Defending?
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Making Threats or Setting Boundaries


3 Responses

  1. Jun 08, 2017
    Pam Lauer

    LaShelle, this gem is so helpful to me! I love how clear and packed with examples it is. I guess the thing that is most helpful is simply the clarity and practicality. I will be forwarding your e-mail to my current students, and I think they will love it.
    -Pam
    p.s. I give new students a list of resources and I have your gem e-mails on the list. Thank you

  2. Jun 08, 2017

    Hooray! I am very happy to hear it. I hope your students find value as well!

  3. Jun 08, 2017

    This hit home for me. I liked the first example of non-violent communication. Too bad Carol's lack of courage to use it isn't explored some more. It isn't scary.

    I find myself lacking empathy for people who drone on and on. Sometimes they are simply toxic, or narcissists, and the best thing you can do is just leave. No one needs to put up with this. They are not necessarily doing the best they can. They can be stuck in a toxic pattern and no amount of non-violent communication will work.

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