During the holiday seasons, we potentially re-enter the seasoned pattern of mindsets that accompany family gatherings. When you think about family gatherings around the holidays, notice how you’re feeling. Do you feel tension or a touch of dread? Do you feel levity or excitement? What do you think explains one over another? Importantly, how could we recover feelings of excitement and joy in light of the tension?
In work, just as at home, the relationships we keep and the stories we collect from one another impact how we show up in the world, and vice versa, we are impacted by how others show up. In order to keep the peace, there may be a tendency to sweep the “bad” under the rug and focus only on appreciating the “good”. Unfortunately, a memory-wiping system à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind does not exist. Ignoring the “bad” merely suppresses, and that suppression over time calcifies into resentment and other complex, heavy emotions and stories that disconnect us from others. Alternatively, we may be so attached to our story that “I’m right and this person is wrong” that we can’t sweep it under the rug or move past it. But who is deciding what is “bad” or “good”? One person’s “bad” may have been a practical and logical decision in their mind. This judgment of others primarily serves to protect and defend ourselves, rather than staying open to learning from their perspective.
In both scenarios, we’re at an impasse. Either we’re in conversational pretense (we aren’t in a conversation at all because we’re avoiding the tension altogether) or we’re combative and argumentative. I feel strongly that I’m right and am impelled to protect myself, and the other individual likely feels as strongly about their point of view as I do, like two rams locking horns. In these moments, it is ever tempting to double down on my view. Maybe if I can dominate the other person’s point of view, then I can win! Yet, how often do we truly feel better in the long run? How often does that momentary “win” really mend a relationship rather than further divide it? Perhaps a more immediate question: what other choice is there in that crucial moment?
There is a choice that, while simple, takes a lifetime of practice: get curious.
At Conversant we believe that when we experience resistance that is our cue to do research. Resistance shows up in a myriad of ways, sometimes expected, sometimes not. Someone may be resistant to our point of view. That feeling of tension or dread that you may have felt earlier? That’s an example of resistance showing up, too. How do we suggest doing research? Try taking a breath and asking reporter questions: who, what, when, where, and how.
Notice the “why” is missing. “Why” has a nasty habit of provoking explanations at best and defensiveness at worst. When we’re in self-defense mode, we are excellent storytellers, and those stories tend to serve our view rather than a genuine curiosity about alternatives. Instead, try: “What has you say that?” The goal here is to get to what we care about. What is important to me that is currently feeling threatened? What is important to the other person?
Think of a situation in your life currently, at work or at home, where you’re feeling this resistance. Try closing your eyes and imagine asking yourself some of these questions. Now how do you feel? What is there to care for? As you continue asking the questions try shifting further to asking: what do we have in common? Given what we both care about, what is it time for now? As you continue asking these questions, curiosity will beget curiosity and you will likely experience a feeling of acceleration and possibility for forward movement. This is what authentically aligning with another person can feel like. While you may not ever see everything exactly the same way, listening with curiosity and researching the other person’s perspective helps create space within a difficult conversation, softening hard habits of self-defense. While it may not immediately result in a clean resolution, it can contribute to a gradual process of mending a relationship, moving it forward, and seeing oneself or another in a new light.
As we enter the holiday season, consider where you may have stories about others that are limiting their potential. Whether at work or with your family, you can choose to show up differently and learn something new rather than reacting to our judgments and assumptions. What do you care about? What might others be caring for? How will you lead having a different conversation?
Interested in exploring further? We walk through several exercises in our Presence Practice Library
You can also listen to our podcast episode How to Be Heard with @mconnolly @robinanselmi and @erconnolly