How can we handle disagreements better? How do we communicate with people who hold different views?
For successful communication to happen, we first must build a sense that we are connected. If we don’t, then no matter how solid the argument, the point won’t get across.
The word communicate comes from Latin ‘Communicare’, which means to share.
A Sense of Belonging
Many people feel isolated now because they are afraid of talking about things that are truly meaningful. They avoid certain topics because a family member or a friend has a different political opinion.
The result? They try to avoid that person together because they simply do not know how to deal with those differences. Many of us suffer from the inability to relate to a person who holds different views on the world.
People are seeking meaning in their lives. Espousing or promoting certain “views” is considered a part of this process. But a truly meaningful life does not just come from accumulating what you know or what you want.
It is also about finding your place in the world, and meaningful relationships are a big part of that.
What people are looking for is a sense of belonging and connectedness.
On Losing Connectedness
We are often so entwined in our own ego that we lose sight of what truly makes our life joyful: connection with other people. Despite all the digital connectivity that has swamped our daily life this century, it seems that we are losing genuine connectedness.
Genuine connectedness does not arise from what we know about other people. You cannot know something deeply until you participate in it.
Similarly, you cannot truly know someone until you have spent quality time with that person, engaging in a meaningful exchange.
But not any conversation fosters connectedness.
Most of our daily conversations are like table tennis. Me, you, me, you, me, you. The phatic function of language is addressed (the channel of communication remains open), but no new information arises from this type of superficial exchange.
There is no pause for the ball to land in you. For that “landing” to happen, there needs to be a pause to allow your interlocutor’s words to make an impression within you.
Something quite different appears to be at work when we are engaged in Logos, the living world.
When you are fully coherent, your words become the Logos, with a creative power behind them.
But not all words carry that kind of power
The moment we start exchanging words, a different form of intelligence arises.
It’s not factual knowledge nor is it knowledge of how to do something. Rather, it’s the knowledge of “how to be with others”. A relational type of knowing.
We learn how to relate to others since our childhood. Slowly, our relational intelligence grows. For the acceptance of the group, we navigate around the sandpit, and ever since, all our communication arises in a social context.
However, our inability to fully grasp the possibilities of communication is hampered by our constant ego-focus.
We cling to the principles of factual knowledge hoping they will help enforce our point of view. While two and a half thousand years later, the Socratic method of facilitating meaningful conversations through compelling questions is still celebrated.
Not questions to which we know answers a priori. Open questions. This calls for a new type of communication.
Communication whose objective is precise to satisfy the longing for belonging. And this is exactly what we practice in Life Coaching.
Let’s talk about communication
To establish such a deeper-level communication, we have to learn to listen again. Not just listen for the loophole in our interlocutor’s monologue, so that we can jump in with eagerness.
No, we must leave space between us for new insight to arise.
Do I have emotional space to include this person?
To find out, I must cultivate a sense of spaciousness, a capacity to stay open and curious. At this very moment.
The creative power of the word can happen only in the present moment. Now.
It is an important practice to refrain from immediately labeling everything as good/bad, right/wrong, pretty/ugly.
I don’t label it immediately. Instead, I engage different levels of my senses for the capacity to listen more deeply. I observe my physical body and my emotional response:
How do I feel it in my body?
Do I experience a contraction in my heart?
A pit in my stomach? Is my breathing getting faster?
I stay open, curious about my sensations, and eschew the need to externalize them (“I want you to know that what you are saying is wrong!”).
The second important step is to spot the incoherence and practice coherence within me, at all levels – cognitive, emotional, and physical.
If I hear people say something but they don’t really mean it, I would feel some irritation or confusion. I know that it’s not a genuine message.
Likewise, if I say something that is not genuine at all these levels, I project this low conviction into the space between us. This will affect the ability for us to truly connect.
Deep listening can be practiced. It increases our awareness of what’s going on with the situation, in our words and beyond. This space between us is a nurturing ground for new ideas and inspiration to emerge.
This kind of listening means comfort with silence. Silence is not simply an empty gap between words. When we listen to the silence, something else happens.
This is particularly true of intimate relationships and in interactions with people with whom we are destined to stay in contact. The real intimacy in a relationship comes from being open and willing to receive the partner on all aspects of being.
We meet the other person exactly as they are, without an urge to change something immediately.
We offer love and acceptance, therefore we feel more loving. This principle is metaphorically represented by an image of a quiet lake reflecting the moon. No ripples, no wrinkles, no furrows. Just a reflection. And we invite our interlocutors to be reflected as they are, without preconceived notions.
If I’m perceiving the other person with my mind, my emotion, my body, my spirit – true intimacy becomes possible. I’m just there, receiving and reflecting on the other person, instead of trying to change or manipulate them.
It is the single most critical relational skill and also the most neglected, as most of us just want to be loved and heard “the way we are”.
The question remains – if we proceed this way, can we strive for connectedness and still solve problems, entering a new territory enriched with inputs from both sides, and maybe find solutions?
Yes, we can.
All unfavorable opinions, reproaches, and judgments are optional. It takes two to fight. And so, if one of the partners refuses to enter the context of the dispute, there is no conflict. There is always a choice of how we respond.
However, when conflicts arise, people typically get triggered and emotionally regress to their younger selves. It is impossible to find a mature solution when two kids are fighting.
In order to smooth out this process, we propose the so-called YES formula, which allows the partners to keep the non-violent communication going.
For this process to work, it is sufficient if one of the partners stays present and non-reactive. Here’s how it goes:
- Yield – This is the ‘disarming’ stage. Hold your impulse to fight and instead practice being gracious. Try to identify some truth in what the other person is saying. Your attitude remains: “I see why you think the way you think”. You can also summarize what the other person has just said and acknowledged how s/he is probably feeling. This way you demonstrate that you have heard what was said, otherwise your partner will simply repeat the same arguments, louder and louder. For example, you can say, ‘I see that you’re upset.’ ‘You’re right. I can see why you’re feeling that way.’ You can even ask them: ‘tell me more about your feelings/thoughts. Show your genuine interest to understand him/her.
- Express – Express your own feelings that have been triggered. It is vital to use statements in the first person singular, such as ‘I feel scared’, ‘I feel anxious’, or ‘I feel sad’, instead of ‘You made me feel xxx.’
- Suggest – Suggest what might help you feel better at that moment. This is not a demand, as most adults hate being ordered around. It is best to allow room for the other person to say no or to propose an alternative. A typical suggestion might be:’ What do you think we can do to solve this?’ This way, we involve the partner in the solution.
Throughout the process, remember to convey respect and warmth for the other person, even if we are feeling frustrated by the situation. It is natural if you feel fearful or vulnerable. To become comfortable with this feeling, it is important to return to the body through a grounding exercise or by taking conscious, long, deep breaths.
When we yield, we gain in communing. We need to build that base so that we gain a sense of belonging. We need to cultivate the field of safety for new information and the possibility to emerge. This foundational work cannot be skipped.
It’s like soil that needs to be tilled before planting your words, no matter how ‘right’ you think your argument is.
Once we have established a sense of connectedness, we can discuss our differences. Otherwise, the debate will continue to separate us.
By applying the YES Formula, your emotional state will become independent of what someone else does or does not do.
If you decide to give – you are empowered. You are not giving away turf – you are simply opening up a new dimension.
Try it yourself. For example, instead of engaging in some turf war, take your time, breathe and then say: “I made a mistake, you were right last week”. How do you feel when you say this? Observe what happens in your body.
Any unusual sensations? Chances are, your ego’s elusive self-respect may have been loosened, with a relief. The pressure is gone. The old way of being “right” recedes into the past.
Express Your Feelings
Breathe. Let the silence do the talking. And wait. Sometimes a murmur will arise, and a novel solution will appear in the space between the two of you.
Stay open to this amazing gift of connectedness. Don’t waste these precious moments with the buzz of the ego.
Instead of engaging in a conversation that functions like ping pong, think of this process as a partner dance.
Sometimes you may not like the steps your partner takes, but you can still go with the flow and propose alternatives whenever opportunities arise.
Stay connected and enjoy the dance.
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