Can you remember a time when a very important conversation came up and you didn’t feel prepared? It might’ve been around a job promotion, ending an important relationship, talking to a rebellious teen or giving constructive feedback to an often-defensive colleague. Think back. Whatever the situation, whatever you said or didn’t say, the effects were lasting.
Let’s listen to an important conversation between a couple. Cheryl and Jim are dating. Cheryl has been feeling insecure in her relationship with Jim because he has been working more, and she isn’t getting the attention she is used to. Cheryl is worried because Jim was supposed to be home two hours ago and he has neither called nor returned her calls.
Cheryl: “Jim, Oh thank god you’re home. I was so worried! What happened?”
Jim: “ Yeah, I ended up going out with the guys after dinner ended and forgot to call.”
Cheryl: “Jim, this is the third time this has happened in the last month. If this relationship is important to you, I need you to check in so I don’t worry like this.”
Jim: “Geez, the other times I was late were because I was stuck in meetings where I couldn’t call. This is an exception Cheryl. Why do you have to overreact like this?”
Cheryl: “ I don’t know what to say, I don’t feel you are hearing me or my concerns. I am going to bed.”
When conversations turn from everyday to crucial, our bodies don’t prepare us in the most effective ways. When something feels unsafe or threatening, our sympathetic nervous system often gets activated. This is also known as our fight/flight/or freeze system. We move into these 3 responses. We want to run, freeze in our tracks, or lash out. Sometimes we are so upset we just freeze and can’t see the bigger picture until we have calmed down. Being upset activates the animal part of our brain. Imagine yourself being a gorilla and being equipped with gorilla like responses. Its little wonder that we say and do things that makes perfect sense in the moment, but later might be foolish.
These types of miscommunications happen all the time, often when we don’t expect them. We cant always plan for difficult conversations, but we can learn some tools to use when they come up.
To be an effective listener and speaker its important to encourage the practice of slowing down and observing ourselves and others. We can start to slow down with the simple act of breathing deeply through our belly. Deep breathing calms down our nervous system, allowing us to tune into our feelings, observe the feelings of others, and what we want to say.
In our example, Jim and Cheryl moved away from dialogue, Jim into fight and Cheryl into flight. To move back to dialogue and closeness , they each needed to step away from the interaction and look at themselves like an outsider.
When you are in the same situation, stop and ask yourself some questions to help yourself understand what you really want.
“What do I really want for myself?”
“What do I want for others?”
What do I want for the relationship?
“What am I doing now and how would I behave if I really wanted these things?”
If not, how can I change my responses to put me on the path to what I really want?
With this new awareness, you can move back into dialogue with the other person. The best tact to step back into communication is to establish safety with kindness and respect. Also share with the other person that you have a mutual purpose in keeping this relationship. Now you have the tools you need if you realize that you or the other person has gone into fight, flight, or freeze.
In summary, here are some steps for mindful communication….
- Slow down and breathe
- Acknowledge what you are feeling and what you want to say, taking into account your needs, your wishes for the other person, and your goals for the relationship.
You can apply mindful speech to any relationship or situation in your life.
As in all things, practice is key.
For more support with speaking from your heart at work or at home, contact Carley or go to www.intuitivelywell.com