Sometimes I find that I just don’t want to hear what the other person has to say. I’m so upset, hurt, or just disconnected that I don’t want to sit and listen. I just want to fix it and move on. Or I just want to say my piece and get out. Can you relate?
I imagine you probably can. And so what are we supposed to do when that happens? What can we do to turn it around?
First, if we can’t listen to the other person, then we probably need to listen to ourselves. Now this doesn’t mean the other person needs to listen to us. And it doesn’t mean we need to work ourselves up with more and more judgmental thoughts. Instead we need to listen deeply to our own tender feelings and what values of ours are at stake. In short hand I call this self-empathy. With self-empathy we shift our attention away from the other person, and we shift our attention away from our thoughts and judgments, and instead we put our attention on our feelings. And to really do this deep listening to ourselves we need to shift into a more accepting attitude. Instead of saying “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” we want to get to a place where we can say “this is how I feel…and while I don’t like it…it is okay to have this feeling for this moment.”
Listening to ourselves can be hard. It can be hard because the other person is talking to us, and we can’t focus. So maybe you need to ask the other person for a brief (3 minute) pause so that you can gather your senses (a.k.a listen to yourself) and respond in a constructive way. It can be hard to listen to ourselves because we’re afraid of what we might find, or we know what’s there but it’s too painful to sit with. But I promise you, the more you do this the less scary and the less painful it becomes. Keeping your feelings locked down makes them scary and more painful to bring up.
Second, after we’ve listened to ourselves, we need to remember that this other person, as a fellow human, deserves respect and dignity. Often when I don’t want to listen I’m focused on how I am not getting the respect that I deserve. But if we want have a different kind of interaction, if we want to break the cycle of defensiveness, attack, and hurt, then we need to remind ourselves that this other person also deserve respect and dignity.
There’s lots of way to do that. One is to repeat to yourself “this person is a human too.” Another way is to take a moment and notice all the things you and this other person share in common (everything from the surface level: we both have skin, to the deep: we both feel fear.) Another way is to imagine this person as a small child in pain because that is often what is happening inside of them. What do you think would help you remember that this other person is a human equally deserving of respect and dignity?
Whatever works for you, use it! It might feel like you are being asked to give this person a big gift. And you are. But there’s only way to break the cycle of indifference, anger, defensiveness, and attack: compassion. Compassion for yourself and compassion for the other person.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.