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Vulnerability & Feedback

As someone who values compassionate communication, you know that when you allow yourself to share in a more vulnerable way with others there is an opportunity for a more fulfilling connection.
But asking yourself to be more vulnerable, isn't a do-able request, it's more like a reference to a basket of needs that you would like to have met; connection, like I mentioned above, along with being seen & heard, mutuality, empathy, acceptance, and intimacy, to name a few.
Allowing yourself to "be more vulnerable" (which could be translated as share more of who you are) and get some of these needs met requires a lot of little actions along the way.  For simplicity sake, let's look at just two categories of actions: 
1.  Evaluate and Create Supportive Conditions 
2.  Ask for feedback by makin in the moment connection requests of others and yourself
1.  Evaluate and Create Supportive Conditions 
If you are someone who is attempting to share more of who you are, then your default sharing mode is probably one in which you share as little as possible.  Your unconscious habit is to evaluate conditions as unsafe to share.
The first action to take is to catch this unconscious pattern at work.  It's probably easiest to do this when you are moving from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar environment.  Look for signs of withdrawing, like subtle body tension, narrow focus, and tight mouth or throat.
The next action is to bring this evaluation to conscious awareness.  This means actually looking around and asking yourself, does this seem like a safe environment?  If you do this in superficial sort of way it won't work.  It's important to focus your attention and really take in the environment and people.  Some evaluation questions might be:  Are people looking at each other?  Are people smiling?  Is body posture mostly open or closed?  Is there a lot of distraction in the environment interfering with an ability to connect or is the environment basically peaceful and protected from distraction?  Is there a time pressure or schedule?
Based on what you notice, you determine what amount of vulnerable sharing the conditions currently support.  For example, a ten minute coffee break at work might support a conversation about what you did on vacation, but not a conversation about the custody battle you are in with your ex-partner.  If you shared about the custody battle on the coffee break, you wouldn't likely get the empathy and listening that honors the vulnerability of your sharing.
Create supportive conditions by making requests of yourself and others before you share.  Such requests might include the following:

  • Ask yourself what you want back from the other person before you share.
  • Discern the circumstances that would best support your sharing.  This might mean asking yourself to wait for a particular time and place before you share.  It might mean deciding between an on the phone or in person dialogue.
  • Make a request of the other person about what you are wanting back and when you would like to share.  For example, "I am wanting to talk about what happened with the doctor's visit today and just need some empathy.  Would you be up for sitting on the couch and talking after dinner?
  • Make a request about the amount of time you would like for the dialogue.  With time it's not so much about the exact amount of time, but rather the amount of receiving a particular time frame supports.  For example, saying "I'd like to just to take as much time as we need this evening to talk about the upcoming move" creates a spaciousness for connection, even though conversation might last fifteen minutes or two hours.
2.  Ask for feedback by making in the moment connection requests of others and yourself
Connection requests are requests that create connection around what is expressed in the moment.  You have likely had the experience of sharing something vulnerable and then feeling it just float there in the air between you and the other person.  Neither of you really know what to do with what was shared.  Connection requests give you something to do in that moment.  They are a way to move forward in the conversation.  Here are some examples of connection requests:
  • What comes up for you hearing that?
  • I'm looking for empathy, can you tell me what you understand about my experience?
  • I'm not sure I'm making sense, can you tell me what you got from what I said?
  • Looks like something comes up for you hearing what I said.  Would you be willing to say?
  • I shared that because I want to celebrate.  Can I get a high five?
  • Saying I'm sick I am just looking for sympathy.  I'd like to hear something like "I'm sorry you're sick".
  • When you are silent as I talk I am not sure you are with me.  If you are connecting to what I am saying, could you give me an uh-huh, or a head nod?
  • Sharing my story, I am not sure if I am way off or not.  Could you tell me if it makes sense to you?
Of course all these requests also work in the reverse.  When someone else shares something vulnerable you could ask if they want any of these things from you.
Feedback is something we constantly rely on from others.  As social beings we need to know how we are affecting others and if we are accepted and in harmony with the group.  We get that feedback primarily through body language and facial expression and secondarily through words.  When you want a connection to be deeper or clearer, asking for feedback is a useful way to get there.  When you evaluate and create supportive conditions and ask for feedback, you can experience a whole new quality of connection.
This week choose one of the actions listed above to practice.  Pick a particular environment or relationship in which to practice.

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