Another insight from How to be an Adult in Relationships (page 47) hit me as I thought about a new project I recently took over. I get a strange vibe discussing it with some people–an underlying assumption that no good status report is bad enough–surely something is really wrong and it is only a matter of time before what everyone thought was good is really bad. It made me wonder how these status reports were being heard and in what light they were being considered.
To listen with the heart is to listen for what someone needs without fear, judgement, criticism, moralism, contradiction, or projection. That is successful communication, and results from mindfulness. We are present in the here and now without mental interferences. With a mind free of bias, we can really notice when another person needs our attentiveness, acceptance, appreciation, affection, or allowing, Philosopher Martin Buber spoke of “empathic connection,” which cannot happen when we are judging, only when we are witnessing. Write out these sentences in your journal and complete each one with as many particulars as you can think of:
I see my partner in these same old ways: _____.
I believe s/he will never change these behaviors: ______.
Change “partner” and “s/he” to “my project” or “my co-worker.” Do they have any chance of ever changing or succeeding in your mind?
As long as we believe a partner to be the same as always or to be what we imagine her to be, we operate from that image and not from consciousness of her needs. We can change this mental habit by giving her the five A’s and really hearing her needs. A person who knows we have pigeonholed her in our minds will not trust us and will therefore not show us her needs. The communication fails, and defensiveness or arguments take over.
I fully respect that each person is allowed to have their feelings and perceptions. The key is what we do with those feelings (how we react) and how accurate those perceptions are.
A co-worker calls this fixation on the past, “playing old tapes.” I love that term. How old are the tapes you play about people in your life? How old are the tapes you play about your co-workers? How old are the tapes you play about something that failed? Are your tapes stuck in a loop about how badly it went last time and how it’s bound to happen again?
Maybe it’s time for some new tapes like: Has anything changed since I last encountered this project or person? How can I be part of making it better? How much solid information do I really have about what is going on? How can we optimize the process so there are safeguards or early warnings if things start to get off track?
Better yet, “How can I fully listen to, or witness the status being given for this project and withhold my judgement and criticism until I’m sure I have all the facts?” In no way am I perfect at these things. I’ve seen a shift inside myself and change of attitude as I’ve tried to practice them. I’ve also been convicted.
I once held negative (uninformed) views too, about the progress and success trajectory of the project I’m now part of. If you focus your primary energy on how you or someone else is going to fail they probably will. If instead, your focus is on finding ways to succeed and contribute to success there’s a greater chance of succeeding.
This is new territory for me and I’ve got to tell you, it’s a much better way to live.