Dec 18, 2008

Is It Time to Rock the Boat? (reposted from GTI's main website)

By Linda Adams, President of GTI

"It's only for the weekend."
"I'll let well enough alone."
"I wouldn't want to cause an argument during Thanksgiving."
"It's not that big of a deal."

As the holiday season nears, do you find yourself resisting or even dreading being with certain relatives or friends because no true connection exists between you?  Will you be with them mostly out of a sense of duty or obligation?  Do you plan to make the best of it?  Get through it somehow and not rock the boat?    

Isn't it interesting, even intriguing, to consider the possibility of what these relationships could be if we were to reject this way of being and take the risk of having truly meaningful genuine dialogue with a parent, uncle, friend or adult child--any relationship where there's staleness, stiffness or indifference. 

While maintaining the status quo might seem innocuous, in reality it's anything but.  Every time we choose it, we collapse further.  It's insidious.  The more often we do it, the easier it is to continue.  Gradually it becomes a habit that we aren't even aware that we have.  We stop seeing that we have a choice.

In reality, we always have a choice.  If we want truly meaningful connections with people, we need to make an effort to bring that about and stop waiting for them to change or show interest in us first or whatever our expectation of them happens to be.  Each of us has the potential capability to improve our communication and as a result our relationships.  

As we are all aware, real and satisfying communication isn't easy and often our attempts at it fall flat in spite of our best efforts.  So we frequently settle for talking about and hearing about the traffic, the weather, the mundane details of our lives, etc. even though we might not have any real interest in discussing these topics and don't feel energized or excited when such conversations are over.  To truly connect with others who are important in our lives requires some skills--of clear, appropriate, non-blameful self-disclosure and of non-judgmental, empathic listening.        
  1. First comes the awareness that you have some unsatisfying relationships with people who are important to you or significant in your life.  I think I can safely say that this would be true for each one of us.
  2. Next comes the realization of the personal price that you pay for maintaining the status quo in these relationships.   Every time you miss an opportunity to make a meaningful connection or decide to let something go, you lose a bit of yourself, you miss a chance to grow.  Passing up these opportunities can cause us to feel indifferent, apathetic, as though we aren't fully living.  It also means that the relationship you have with the other person will not be strengthened or deepened, in fact, the opposite will happen--more distance will be created between you.   
  3. You can decide to gently rock the boat, make a little wave--not a tsunami.  This means being willing to risk engaging in genuine dialogue with the other person--both honest, clear and non-blameful self-disclosure and empathic listening.   
  • Make a conscious attempt to learn more about the other person by showing genuine interest in them and then Active Listen to show that you understand.  Do this with the intent of truly hearing their experience and not using it as a way segueing into a story of your own, i.e. "That reminds me of the time...".  Keep the ball in their court; let them have the floor; let them finish.     
  • Ideally, the other person will reciprocate by actively showing an interest in you--your experience, ideas or opinions.  When that happens, it gives you an opportunity to share something important to you, to reveal something about yourself and contributes to the feeling of a real connection between you.  Unfortunately, the other person doesn't always show that interest, but that doesn't need to stop you.  When they don't, say something like: "I'd like to tell you about..." or "Here's something I've been thinking about...", etc.     
Empathic listening and congruent self-disclosure (I-Messages) are equally necessary skills because it's just as important to listen with understanding, empathy and acceptance of the other person as it is to let them know you at a deeper level.  If disclosing and listening are way out of balance, the interaction will be dissatisfying for at least one of you.  People have said to me:  "I like talking to you--you're such a good listener" and I value hearing that.  Still, if I have mostly listened and not disclosed meaningful things about myself that are heard and acknowledged, I come away feeling at least vaguely dissatisfied.  On the other hand, when another person and I engage in meaningful dialogue with each other, we both come away energized and enriched by the experience and eager for more.

Make a gentle wave and see what ripple effect it has.  It could make the difference between just surviving the holidays and having a meaningful experience. 

Dec 8, 2008

A Christmas Miracle!

About a month ago, an old friend of mine posted pictures of his snowshoeing trip online. There was something in these photos that caught my eye, and it wasn't the powdery white snow I'm so very homesick for...

It was my bright red ski coat that went missing about a year ago, around the same time this friend of mine moved in with his fiancee. The same red ski coat I asked him about before I moved, as I seemed to have remembered leaving it in his apartment. The same red ski coat that he said he didn't have; the red ski coat that his fiancee was happily modeling in all of his photos. MY red ski coat.

(I wouldn't ordinarily be so quick to jump to conclusions, except that this is the same "friend" who told me my bike had been stolen. I later discovered he had sold it...)

Anyway, if I would have found these photos before October, our interaction would have gone something like this:

me: I see your fiancee is wearing my coat...can I have it back?
him: That's not your coat!
me: Well it's identical to mine, and it's kind of a unique coat. And it's too big for her!
him: It's not your coat, it's hers! I can't believe you're accusing me of stealing your coat!
me: You did steal my coat! It's even missing the same zipper as mine! Send it back to me! NOW!
him: ...

Well, you get the idea.

However, in October, I attended a P.E.T. Instructor Training Workshop, and I picked up on a few things. I decided to put my newly learned P.E.T. skills to the test. Our interaction went like this instead:

me: I see that the coat in your pictures is identical to the one that I'm missing. Any chance that that's the one I lost?
Al: That's not your coat. I can't believe what you're implying, that's ridiculous.
me: You feel like I'm accusing you of something.
Al: Yes! You basically just told me I stole your coat. Like I'm a thief or something. That's not your coat!
me: So you didn't take my coat. But, look, I really miss my coat and I'm going to have to pay a lot of money for a new one this year if I can't find mine, and that's really stressing me out.
Al: Ok, look, I'll take another look around through the house and my storage unit, ok? Just don't accuse me of stealing your stuff.
me: Alright, I'm sorry I accused you of stealing. I would really appreciate your looking for it again. Thank you.
Al: No problem. I'll let you know if I find it.

Last week, my coat arrived at my front door in perfect condition, with a hand-written apology and a note about how he didn't realize that I had missed the coat at all.

This was a tricky situation, and I'm sure I could have handled it better. But as I have been learning through experience, I-messages tend to work in the trickiest of situations...even if you start things off on the wrong foot.

All hail Active Listening and I-messages!!! :)