“We don’t communicate well.” The logical reaction is to focus on learning what to say and how to say it. Unfortunately, it’s not the best response to the problem.
Trying to pick your words and say things perfectly is exhausting; it’s easy to give up. It’s like trying to put Band-Aids on broken bones; it misses the depth of the problem.
If a woman admits that she often nags, or a man admits that he often criticizes, the first thing they address is their own tone of voice. This often leads to them being told, “You just don’t get it.” It’s true — they missed the big picture.
Even if you say something inconsiderate, controlling, or hurtful in a “really nice and calm tone of voice”, it’s still inconsiderate, controlling or hurtful!
When we understand the big picture, we can learn what’s helpful and what’s not.
Lack of understanding, about ourselves and the other person, is why we react rather than respond. Greater understanding, about ourselves and the other person, is the pathway to learning what to say and how to say it.
When we recognize our emotional reactions, gain self-control, and learn to listen, we won’t have to say it perfectly or smoothly. We can find our voice, become transparent and vulnerable about what’s inside of us, and let ourselves be heard.
That’s the full picture of what it means to react less and respond more.
Listening is a response.
Listening is most often interrupted by reactions. We have a thought or a feeling. We react with talking, facial expressions, and body language.
Listening requires that we stop talking. This requires more than shutting our mouth, biting our tongue, or not saying anything. Those are all good things to do, but we actually have to stop preparing to talk.
When we are thinking about what you want to say, we are still talking in our head. Stop talking.
Seek to understand. Listening is not about you. Listening is about the person talking.
They may not communicate well, but they are trying to communicate something. They may say, “It’s your fault I feel this way. If you would change, I would feel better.” They are trying to be heard to get their needs met.
This isn’t about letting yourself be verbally abused. If that happens, practice self-control, (see previous post, Part 2).
Acknowledge what’s been said. “I heard what you said. I don’t know what to say in response, but I heard you. Thanks for telling me.”
We want the people we love to talk with us and to us. Create a space where they can. It’s up to them if they do. Do your part.
“I know I just keep reacting the same way. I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do?”
Learning self-control is where to begin. No reaction is a response. It’s intentional. Controlling your self, getting a hold of your emotions is a simple concept, but it’s not easy.
Get to know yourself. Recognize the signs of an emotional reaction. What are you thinking? How do you feel? Pay attention.
Humans have emotional reactions. Remaining unaware of them can lead to impulsivity and losing control of our self emotionally.
Get some distance. Stop texting. Stop the conversation on the phone or in person. Leave the room. Leave the house. Give yourself time and space.
Calm the emotional reaction. Breath. Inhale to the count of four, hold for a count of two, and exhale to a count of four. Slower breathing calms our emotions and slows down our minds.
Respond with self-control. Whatever you say or do will be more helpful when you have control of your self.
Reactions are impulsive. Responses are intentional.
When relationships are highly reactive, they have impulsive patterns of conflict, silence, tension, and more conflict. Both sides try to defend, protect, attack, and prove. They react and fuel one another.
When everyone is reacting, listening decreases.
When no one is listening, it’s hard to feel valued. When no one is feeling valued, it’s hard to feel loved. When no one is feeling loved, it’s hard to react lovingly.
See the pattern?
Stop reacting. Start responding.
It doesn’t require everyone. It only takes someone.
When someone listens, it’s easier to feel valued. When someone feels valued, it’s easier to feel loved. When someone feels loved, it’s easier to respond lovingly.
When someone responds, listening increases.
When relationships are highly responsive, they have intentional patterns of talking, connection, peace, and more talking. Both sides try to listen, be considerate, and care. They respond and feed one another.
Be someone who responds to the people you love. Love well.