People are complicated. We are all so unique! It's part of what relationships so interesting, and life so fascinating.
We have our own histories, personalities and challenges. We bring all of that complexity into each and every interaction that we have with others.
This means that when we are talking about seemingly benign things like, “what that disagreement was about,” we are NOT just talking about some objectively verifiable facts. We are looking through a lens (so to speak) at the unique perceptions of the people involved.
The more complicated the situation, the more convoluted the differing perceptions can be, and the harder it can be to untangle the web of thoughts and feelings and come to a shared understanding.
And yet, so often – it WORKS! Even between people who are tremendously different, there can be a spark of connection! You know the feeling. It happens when we are seen, heard and deeply understood. Our brains light up with empathy, and we are enticed to do it again. This experience is truly one of the greatest gifts in life.
We ALL have access to these kinds of interactions and relationships. It's a matter of knowing where to start and then practicing, practicing, and practicing some more. (You'll never run out of opportunities to practice!)
There are predictable patterns in healthy relationships that pave the way for developing a deeper understanding of one another and achieving this kind of connection.
When we build deeper understanding of others, it opens the door for trust and good will, problem solving, shared commitment, deeper learning, and appreciation for one another. So much GOODNESS is available to us!
The first step is to increase transparency. To be transparent is to be able to share what is REALLY happening for us at any given moment so that others do not have to guess. (Harder done than said.)
It all starts with SELF.
Here are the first few steps on the road to greater transparency:
1) Build self-understanding.
The best communicators understand our own “habits of mind,” motivations, and “stuck places.”
Since we carry our histories with us, it behooves us to know what is in that baggage and how it is affecting how we perceive and interact with others.
2) Build self-awareness.
Our feelings change all throughout the day.
There are moments when we are happy and open-minded, and others when we feel stress and anxiety. We often attribute these feelings to what is happening on the OUTSIDE, but just as often, these feelings arise because of what we are THINKING and how we perceive a situation. Being able to name our feelings (which is easier when we develop a vocabulary to describe feelings), can be a powerful way to create a little space between any given stimulus (event), and response.
3) Take a beat. Take a breath.
I can’t say enough about how important it is to respond thoughtfully to others. Try to reduce “reactionary” responses by PAUSING before you act. We often have knee-jerk reactions to people and events when we are under stress, and this can create a kind of volatility that destroys trust. Take a beat. Take a breath.
4) Use I-language.
Say, “this is how I see it,” instead of “this is how it is.” (And please don't say, "this is how YOU are." ;-))
Say, “this is what I need,” instead of “this is what YOU need.”
Say, “this is what I’m willing to do,” rather than, “you must…”
Working on these 4 points builds a strong foundation for healthy relationships because it means that others don’t have to guess at what you are feeling and what you really need.
Transparency becomes trustworthiness, which then creates safety, which opens the door for more transparency. (It's a virtuous cycle.)