On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
I am a couples therapist, as you know by now. I spend a LOT of time encouraging active listening and empathy between spouses. Important work, slowing the pace down of a heated fight using reflection and mirroring. That slowing down, can, but not always, open heated arguers up to a larger perspective and even empathy for the person they are arguing with. It is beautiful, when it works.
Active listening alone, cannot bring about real connection.
I had a co worker some years ago who was brilliant at active listening. Weirdly, I never felt connection to her. It was a technique she used to protect herself from getting too close. Not to get closer.
Some people use active listening and mirroring to avoid connection.
"How is this even possible?" you might ask. Connection is about how you, as the listener, show up to the dialogue - not how well you mirror. Nor is connection about how vulnerable, personal, or deep the talker goes. You heard Dr. Rosmann and I talk about this on this week’s podcast.
So what are we actually to be doing, then, if we are not just “reflecting”, “mirroring”, and “active” listening?
1. We are coming with open curiosity and total surrender of our opinions.
2. We bring a massive amounts of faith and trust that in this curious place of connection something quite profound and soulful can emerge.
That's right. I did just say faith and trust must accompany the our very deep surrender and open curiosity.
I knew this in my bones from listening on the sidewalk but when Dr. Rosmann and I spoke, she put words to it and my heart beamed. And being the visual thinker that I am, I drew us all some pictures.
May we all keep opening up in our connections and have faith the soulfulness that tcan emerge!
Judging someone is a real bugger.
Judgment prevents us from connecting as people. And it kinda makes us sick.
Not proudly, I judge people all the time. And I am not always aware when I am doing it. Sidewalk Talk and being married have both been my biggest teachers for being a better human.
A dear friend, Jamie McHugh, shared a quote with me,
“Judgement and anger are always a signpost of an unmet need.”
This quote reminds me of training I did with Marshall Rosenberg in 2005.
“Great so I have an unmet need, I am still mad and I’m judging and blaming the other person for it. What is your point, Traci?”
Let me tell you a story that will help this all come to life.
I see couples for therapy in the evening. Three nights I week I get home after ten pm and it is pitch black out and finding the door, getting the key in the lock...it is impossible if the porch light isn’t on. One week, my husband forgot to leave the porch light on for the third time. I was very snarky and judgemental when I got in the house. “He is so lazy.” “He is so selfish.”. “He is so ..fill in the blank.”
Because I love my partner, I am motivated to dig beneath the surface of my snark and I try to dialogue with the parts of me that are so upset rather than being a self-righteous jerk to him. “I am so sorry you are upset, Traci. What is the truest truth here? What most tender need didn’t get met by your husband that you can share tenderly with him rather than lambast him?”
To figure out what the heck is up with me I first need to close my eyes, feel the tension of the judgment and anger in my body and let my care and compassion for my hurt melt it a bit and then the real tender hurt part of me reveals itself.
My judgment and self-righteousness was a way I was trying so hard NOT to feel my vulnerability. A part of me felt forgotten and unimportant - an old wound indeed. (No wonder it was hotter than the situation called for.)
A few minutes later I got in touch with my need for nurturance and consideration. And whamo, I am free and open and available for a connected dialogue with my husband that has nothing to do with making up some judgemental story about my guy, nor using some “heady” 1, 2, 3 steps for better dialogue.
Heart-centered listening fixed my whole judgemental sassy stuff.
In my years of practicing this kind of heart-centered listening and dialogue it doesn’t always work out, though. My husband may still forget to leave the porch light on. Or, in some instances, other folks I have shared my tenderness with rebuke with pep talks to “get over it” or “go meditate” or “count to 4 and the feeling will shift” instructions. Some folks will not honor our tenderness and vulnerability, ever and that painful truth we can also be heart-centered with.
None of this is about getting the other person to change.
It is about us being heart-centered, even when the world around us cannot. That is why such simple acts of dialogue and connection are WAAAAY more than reflective listening. Reflective listening is a technique. Being heart-centered is a state. And it is a radical, life-altering, world-transforming state to walk around the world in.
Will you join me in using our own hearts to melt our judgments by getting clear what is really true in our most tender places inside?
From those tender places we can learn to be tender with all the different parts of ourselves and tender with all the different people in the world and do right by them. That is what we are practicing at Sidewalk Talk but you don’t have to come listen with us to practice. You can start right now, today.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.