How I Messed Up My Relationships Using 'Authentic' Communication -- And The Counter-Intuitiv
Have you ever tried to have an important and difficult conversation with someone you're intimate with -- hoping and praying it would go smoothly....and really REALLY trying your best to handle yourself well -- only to have it explode in your face and leave you in an even worse place than when you started? Yeah. I know that place well and it umm...sucks! See, in the past, I thought that if I could just show up to difficult conversations from a place of authenticity -- and really share my truth calmly -- that all would go well. But what I discovered was that despite all the skills I thought I had around communication....and my ability to be authentic, transparent and calm -- I was still blowing these conversations!
This threw me and was deeply frustrating. What the hell was I doing wrong?? After some time it became clear to me. See, it's one thing to communicate honestly and be in integrity with ourselves and our truth. That's all fine and dandy and it's a great start! It's a whole other thing though, to communicate honestly from a place of kindness, warmth, and compassion for the OTHER person and their experience. Now this might seem obvious -- but this is what I was missing! See -- expressing our truth to someone is great. However -- if we do that without really holding space for the other person -- we're missing the real opportunity for connection and healing. If we're approaching our conversations from a place of wanting to defend ourselves, get feelings off our chest, and have the other person hear us....then it's nearly impossible for us to actually get the other person's experience and truly connect with them. Because when we're consumed with getting our points across -- we fail to truly hear the other person. If we're not hearing them ....then they don't feel heard, seen or understood. And if they don't feel heard, seen and understood..... then, yep -- the shit hits the fan. They start to feel defensive. And you'll just end up in a battle of 'points' you're trying to get across to each other -- versus really listening to one another. And as we all know -- that ain't pretty!
So how do we avoid this?
If we approach difficult conversations from a place of wanting to understand the other person -- versus trying to get them to understand us -- then we actually have a chance at increasing our intimacy with them and working through our conflict. If we're not helping the person we're in conflict with feel heard, seen and understood ....then most likely the conversation won't be successful. Listen, I'm not saying this is easy. Because it's definitely not ;-)
And I'm not saying I'm an A+ rockstar at this either. I too have my human moments where I lose my way and need to refine my approach. It's super natural for us to want to put our focus on making sure that we feel heard, seen and understood. But with practice and patience -- we can improve how we navigate conflict with our loved ones by using this counter-intuitive approach. While there are a lot of components to successful communication and what it takes to navigate conflict well --- I've found that these two simple things can really help a lot:
1) Before you start the conversation....put your ego aside.
Yes, I know...you have a lot of things you want to say and you want to feel understood as well. Of course! But if you're going to get anywhere -- you need to leave your ego at the door and step into the conversation from a place of loving curiosity regarding the other person and their experience.
2) Listen from your heart....not your mind.
So often when we're in difficult conversations.....we're trying to prove how we're right and the other person's wrong. We find ourselves in a battle of the minds with the other person; each of us trying to prove our points. But to have a successful conversation...we need to listen to the other person from our heart, not our mind. The key, again, is to approach the conversation from a place of loving curiosity.
Get curious -- what is this person's experience?
How are they feeling?
What is this conflict bringing up in them?
Is it triggering their abandonment wounds? Their fear of engulfment?
When you listen from your heart....you're able to really 'get under' what's happening and tune into what the core issue is from the purest, truest place. For instance...if the other person is showing up angry and seething, it can be easy to react and want to prove to them that they're blowing things out of proportion and explain why they should calm down.
But if you're listening from your heart....and you're really trying to hear what's underneath their emotions...what you might actually see is how much they love you and how hurt or scared they are of losing you.
You might actually realize that their anger has less to do with what happened between you two -- and more to do with an old, painful core wound that's being triggered within them. When you can tune into this place -- and really try to understand what's happening for them under the surface -- then you're able to tap into a well of love and compassion for them and their experience. And this the place you want to address them from.
Because that is what's truly at the heart of the issue between you two.
When you can do this, the people you love will feel heard, seen and understood -- and from that place -- you'll have the best chance of navigating your conflict and increasing your intimacy and connection with them. If we can learn to navigate conflict and share our feelings from a place of honoring both our experience and the other person's experience -- then our relationships with the people we care about will have no other option but to bloom. When the person you're in conflict with feels you really 'getting' them -- your conversation will naturally soften and open up.
And that's where there real healing and intimacy begins. :)
Melanie Hersch is a Psychotherapist and a Dating & Relationship Coach who is passionate about helping people figure out what's getting in their way from having the kind of love they want.
She's an insight facilitator, a bullshit detective, a communication enthusiast and a personal cheerleader who infuses humor and lightness into deeper personal explorations. If you're in a place where you're feeling stuck in your dating and relationship life and you could use the guidance of a therapist and relationship coach wrapped into one -- reach out to Melanie here to set up a complimentary consultation. She works with clients for a minimum of 3 months at a time -- which you can learn more about on her website.