“Is there anything else you want to say?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said slowly and then added, “I guess I just want to say that I see this another way. We’re different.”
“I’m okay with that,” she responded.
I laughed. “Yes, I am too.”
When my friend and colleague requested that we speak about an interaction we had, I was happy to talk with her. She wanted to “clear something up” with me and so we scheduled a convenient time to talk.
“It seems like a little thing,” she began, but it also seems important to talk with you about it so it doesn’t hang in the air between us. I value our relationship.”
She spoke and I listened. I spoke and she listened. She asked for clarification. I asked for clarification. We mirrored to one another what we heard the other say. She shared what was triggered within her, and why trust is challenging. I empathized with her and shared that it would make sense to me why she saw our interaction as she did. I told her what I would do differently in the future to avoid misunderstanding. We asked one another if there was anything else the other wished to communicate. Then we completed the conversation, restoring our connection, and expanding both of our perspectives, learning more about each other, and about ourselves.
This is the kind of vigor and commitment that I value from the women in my life. We care for ourselves, we care for the other, and we care for the relationship.
When we hung up the phone, I noticed I was smiling. Reflecting on the conversation, I found comfort in our generosity with one another. We held our own realities, made space for the other’s viewpoint, and had the maturity to make room for both of us to be “right.”
Communication skills and healthy relationship skills are learned behaviors for me. I teach a course on communication entitled, “Conflict: An Initiation into Intimacy” which teaches six basic skills in communication that allow for us to develop more intimacy with ourselves and with others.
Here is an introduction to three of those communication tools.
- Whenever there is a miscommunication or misunderstanding between friends or colleagues, emotions can be triggered. Be aware of what you are feeling. To simplify, ask yourself, “Am I feeling afraid, angry, sad, shame or glad?” Once identified, breathe into the emotion, setting it aside with an agreement to attend to it shortly. Identifying our feelings and then putting them on hold in order to listen and hear another is an important skill that allows us to be present and awake as we listen to another, and care for our relationships.
- Practicing deep breathing as you are listening in order to avoid reacting, defending, or interrupting. Practice listening with detached compassion for the other. Attempt to put yourself in their shoes, even if you have another viewpoint. This teaches us compassion, for ourselves, and for another. It also assists us in seeing another’s perspective, widening our viewpoint for clarity and wisdom.
- Mirror what you have heard the other say. Repeat it back to them, for the purpose of understanding what they are saying, assuring them that you hear them, and de-escalating any reactivity you may experience. Remember, intentional, strong listening skills does not mean you agree. Only that you are hearing the other person’s perspective.
Remember to have patience with yourself. Learning conscious listening and developing communication skills both professionally and personally takes practice and persistence. Even when we do “everything right” in our conversations with others, and in clearing up any misunderstandings between us, possibly owning our own triggers and mistakes, does not guarantee that the other person will do the same.
We learn healthy communication and relationships skills for ourselves first. When we develop relationships with those rare individuals who have the same commitment, ability to be honest, and take ownership of their behaviors, close connections, deep trust, and companionships with like-minded individuals will be our reward.