Archive for the 'Difficult Conversations' Category

Joy of reconciliation

March 20, 2014

I get a real charge out of certain styles of conversation, when the exchange really flies and it feels exhilarating.  It’s the process as much as whatever content we’re discussing that I get a thrill out of.  (I suspect the experience arises out of a flow back and forth between myself and the person I’m talking to.  Of course, the downside is that while I pick up the ideas and good feelings, I also tend to pick up other things from the person, at least temporarily.)

Then there’s another process that can feel real good, too, the process of reconciliation through both people checking in with their guidance (the sort of guidance accessible through prayer and contemplation) and not just mixing it up as social beings.  If I listen for my guidance and they listen for theirs, and we each follow it, we end up, as it were, in the same place — through a process that involves less friction than even following the helpful rules of how to have difficult conversations.  And speaking strictly for myself, I can find the same idea much easier to accept coming from the Universe than coming from the other person — I think because most people coat their ideas with emotional overlays, and as my body does to the base in a vaccine, I react to the emotional coating (sometimes negatively).

There is, of course, something to be said for working out a disagreement face to face or email to email — it can be more satisfying if it works.  But depending on God as an intermediary is very helpful when the social part of the relationship is stuck, especially in what I see as asymmetrical relationships.  The other person just doesn’t want to interact socially with me as equals, and thankfully, there’s a way for me to deal with that without buying into that point of view or insisting that they accept social symmetry.  God provides a fluid interface and a way we can reconcile, if we have willingness.

Sometimes I wonder if the internet is a sort of medium and middle way through which the reconciliation through the spiritual part of us and the reconciliation through our social aspect can meet.  People can write their piece, others can react, and through links and comments and blogs and all kinds of less than personal communication online, things can be worked out.  While I am confident this method can serve a need, I do remain concerned that it leaves a lot of room for confusion and misunderstanding;  but maybe that’s a smaller difficulty than the difficulties that would ensue from pursuing a different method.  I don’t know, I just know my own difficulties with the method — and my own gratefulness for its allowing some sort of communication where, without it, there might not be any, or enough to move forward at all.  And I can always ask the Universe for guidance about how to think about and deal with the method and my reaction to it.

What does the etiquette book say?

October 10, 2013

My mother has an anecdote about learning on the spot the etiquette for going through a receiving line at a socialite’s wedding.  One of the older women receiving the guests gave her a prompt for what she was supposed to say in response.  She was college age at the time.  She appreciated the prompt.

My mother had the advantage of realizing from the details of the situation that she was being called upon to do something, and the nature of a receiving line — its length — allowed her to climb the learning curve successfully during the episode.

I think sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances in which we don’t think of the appropriate response until we are descending the staircase afterwards.

I think it’s a mistake to think of this situation as an example of a failed imitation of the receiving line scenario I just described, during which there was time to learn, regroup, and respond as necessary.  Instead it is another sort of opportunity, one in which we are being asked to learn a different skill, I think.

I suspect it will be a new skill, not mere repetition of what we usually do and have done before, that we will find we are being asked to learn.  And, of course, we can not learn it, we can fail to recognize it, refuse to do it, etc.  We can mistake it for something it isn’t, especially if to make this mistake would support our trying to put our onus onto another person.

Sometimes I have figured out what to do in puzzling situations by taking the advice an elderly lady, who was my predecessor as treasurer for the Afro-American Society of Arlington gave me years ago.  She said her husband suggested she do the thing she was avoiding.  The example she gave me was revisiting her childhood home after her mother died.  She hadn’t wanted to do it, but it helped when she did do it, finally.

At the time, I was grappling with bereavement, and what I was avoiding was buying myself a necklace.  Sounds strange, but the two turned out to be connected, and buying myself a necklace freed something up and I was able to move on to a new step in the grieving process.

Costella didn’t try to tell me what to do or tell me what I was avoiding, that work was mine.  She gave me a process:  identify what you’re avoiding and try doing it.

In another example, I was avoiding having a difficult conversation with a relative.  In one instantiation of the pattern, I asked someone else to help me with the conversation, and I regretted the results.  Not surprisingly, the opportunity came around again, and this time I took the bull by the horns and did it myself.  It was rough.  On me and on the relative.  But I think it was necessary, for both of us.

I actually think we see people and even groups going through this in the public sphere.  They try the same thing over and over, and then they try doing what they have been avoiding and the pattern resolves.  But it takes gumption to take the road they are avoiding.

Learning a new skill and moving through our lives can involve accepted etiquette.  It can also involve diving deep within ourselves and discerning what we should be doing through that process instead.  I suspect making the transition from one method to the other is a difficult learning experience in itself.

Group dynamics

November 8, 2012

When interactions between or among individuals who need to be working for a common good bog down, they can take a step back and work on process.  Twelve-step groups sometimes take a “group inventory,” families sometimes seek counseling, sports teams might have some sort of meeting, musical groups and businesses, too.  Here’s my question:  why doesn’t Congress?  Roger Fisher is deceased, but there are others well versed in teaching people to negotiate productively.  I’m sure Congress could find a couple of figures they could agree on to co-chair some sort of house-cleaning of the two chambers.  Being dysfunctional may feel good from the inside, but it just looks unnecessary and self-indulgent from the point of view of (many) observers.  Maybe these folks can’t distinguish between positive attention and negative attention, but I would have thought they’d like to be thought of as a Congress that did its job effectively.  I hope they don’t think that because they are “Members of Congress,” they are not vulnerable to the same human weaknesses that can result in unproductive behaviors in any group situation.

Getting what we asked for

August 1, 2011

I get the impression that part of the reaction to the debt ceiling deal of many people who don’t agree with the Republicans is that they (the people doing the reacting, that is, not the Republicans to whom they’re reacting) have made no contribution to the situation that produced it.

While those of us who disagree with the deal, and with the Republican bargaining tactics and substance, didn’t ask specifically for those items off of some kind of menu given to us by the waiter (I’m picturing Grover, the Sesame Street monster serving the guy with the round blue head), we were not AWOL on Mars during the past thirty years.

How did we get here?

Ann Landers used to talk about how no one can take advantage of us without our permission.  I would re-frame that in terms I think I read about in a book called Difficult Conversations (by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen): interactions involve contributions from all involved.  There is also the perspective on the same issue, I think, of programs like Al-Anon, that our attitudes make a difference, that we may become unreasonable in our own way without knowing it and contribute to the chaos, having been sucked into it without realizing it.

I think it’s unfortunately true that behavior we think is justified and okay, other people may actually find hurtful, or at least they may react to it defensively.  We don’t get to decide how they will react.  I think this applies to the Tea Party.  They are reacting to something.  They seem to be vulnerable to styles of discourse that seem to involve factual errors, anger, and bitterness.  What shapes people to be receptive to this?  Why do people glom onto to charismatic television personalities and candidates with simplistic sound bites?  How do television personalities and candidates develop into these characters themselves in the first place?

We see the difficulties of reaching hearts and minds abroad — I think the same difficulties are present at home.  People tend to be “doing their best” in the sense that it is the best they can do given the way they have developed to date.  Their — actually, our — strategies may be maladaptive but they protect the self, at least in the short term.  People need to develop on the inside in order to exhibit different behavior.  What they — make that, we — need in order to undergo that development maybe is what would be more effective for us to focus on, including for ourselves as individuals.