Sometimes people don’t want the pep talk. They just want to be heard. They want to be allowed to exist in the space they're residing in, without the input or opinion of others.
It’s a tough lesson — one that requires daily practice, especially for those of us wired to help, uplift, and encourage. It’s particularly important for those of us embodying roles of consultant, coach, and confidant.
This weekend, at a family birthday celebration, I saw that I needed to deepen my own listening. Within fifteen minutes of arriving to my nephew’s birthday party, my brother and I began a conversation about a personal issue he is working through. We instantly got into it. I started verbalizing my opinions — intending to encourage him. He began to argue with every point I made. I didn’t recognize this at the time, but he really didn’t want my opinion. He just wanted to be heard. I could feel that we were debating, both trying to be understood, and mis-firing on every sentence. As our frustration grew with family and friends around, my breath rate increased and my body tightened. I then walked away.
That helped. I walked to the field to see my daughter and niece playing in the aspen trees and then visited with my son as he was playing lacrosse on the backboard of the tennis court. I engaged with what they were doing and asked questions, then listened.
By the time I had come back to the pavilion, my breath rate had slowed and my energy had shifted. My brother and I were able to move on quickly.
Later that night, we had a wonderful text exchange and I realized more deeply that all my brother needed was his sister to hold space for the place he was in. He didn’t want the pep talk. He didn’t want my opinion. An even bigger revelation is that I never asked him how he wanted me to show up for him or what he needed. Automatically, I jumped in to do what I always do: give the pep talk.
As I reflect on this wonderful life lesson, I see how much practice is available for us to deepen our listening to one another, to hold space, to accept where others are and allow them to be right there. As well intended as my pep talk might be, it is more important to be attuned to what the other needs from us. There are a few simple things I am going to do this week at work and at home to try to practice that attunement:
1. Be present with your state of being
Become aware of where you are in the moment — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You don’t need to change anything — just notice and tune in. Do you feel grounded? Distracted? Open? Closed?
2. Be aware of the other's state of being
When you are communicating with someone else, notice where they are in the present moment. Do they feel completely there? Do they feel open? Do they feel stressed? Sometimes it’s not conducive to ask for whatever reason. When this is the case, put yourself in their shoes. Feel their scenario and surroundings. Do your best to see through their eyes and imagine what might be most helpful in this moment. Then, trust your intuition and respond as best you can.
3. Check it out
Before you jump in to automatic responses (motivating, lifting up, criticizing, judging), ask. Ask the other person what kind of dialogue or exchange would be most helpful to them right now. Try something link this: "What would be most helpful to our discussion right now? Would you like me to simply listen? Would you like feedback? Would you like my opinion?” Listen to their response and really practice doing what they ask for.
Walking away helped me create space — physically, mentally and emotionally. I began to breathe and changed the subject by focusing on my kids. I did not stew on our exchange, repeat it in my head, or talk about it with others. This helped tremendously. When you notice you are in a tense exchange with someone, call a time-out. Stop the conversation in whatever kind way you can. Continuing it will only make it worse. Creating space to breathe, think, feel, and connect to yourself — noticing what is really going on under the surface — will be the greatest gift you can give yourself and the other. It is likely that wisdom will surface with fresh thinking. Those new insights and self-awareness that will help you communicate more effectively the next time.
Communication is one of our greatest capabilities as human beings. We get to fine-tune, grow, and expand our abilities to connect to ourselves and others each day. The more awareness we are able to bring to the present, to ourselves and to each other, the more we will evolve to the people we are meant to be. To assist you on your path of presence, listening, and awareness, join us at our next Lantern leadership retreat, where you will invest in your own growth. Indeed, growth is the most important gift we can give to ourselves. We’re here to help you when you’re ready!