Could you imagine what it would be like if we opened ourselves to the experiences of others? What could you learn? What would you find out about the deep diversity of people’s lives and thoughts?
We get so harried to make our point, make the other person understand our experience. We often get so consumed by our own needs and thoughts that we don’t take the time to understand and experience what is going on around us or what other people are seeing and dealing with.
Here are some strategies that I’ve found useful when I get in that harried place and realize that I’m not really pausing to listen to or experience what other people are saying:
- Slow down – I find taking a deep, grounding breath (or a few of them) helps me become more present. Immediately, I can listen better and more deeply.
- Stop talking – Silence is okay. You don’t need to fill the space just to fill time. Silence can help those who process internally to clarify what they want to say; and it gives them room to say what’s on their mind.
- Resist the impulse – As soon as I feel the urge and desire to blurt out a reaction to something someone said, I pause, tune into why I’m reacting, and decide with more awareness how or if I’m going to respond.
- Ask them to clarify – We don’t always say things and get it right the first time. If someone says something that I don’t understand or if I simply want them to elaborate (so that I don’t fall into the trap of assuming what they mean), I ask them for more clarification.
- Ask questions – We don’t always have to be the ones filling the space. If we really want to understand what someone is experiencing, we can ask them about it.
- Apologize – As much as I want to tap into the mindfulness and pace that I talk about in points 1-5, I don’t always get it right. Usually, I can sense this when people begin to shut down or get defensive. I find that a simple, authentic apology can go a long way. Something along the lines of, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to come out like that.” Or, “I’m sorry I just jumped in. Tell me more.”
Think about a moment you were surprised by something someone told you. What were you doing to make that conversation work? What did you put in (or hold back) in that moment that allowed the other person to share with you?