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I am now posting articles and musings on the blog at Mediate Your Life, our training company website.

Feel free to browse through the posts below, as well as the many articles we have posted on this site, all of which are still relevant and, I hope, helpful. For more recent articles, please visit the Mediate Your Life blog.

Thank you!

Changing Habitual Reaction Patterns

Brian walks into the meeting with his team Monday morning determined to not react when Phil, a co-worker, speaks up. During the last two meetings, Brian has expressed his anger and then afterwards felt irritated and complained to another co-worker about how Phil is trying to take the project in the wrong direction. This time, he decides, he will let it be water off a duck’s back.

Nonetheless, the meeting proceeds similar to the previous two; as soon as Phil speaks up, Brian begins to feel his irritation grow, and soon he is in the same pattern as before, heart racing as he makes a few clipped comments saying what he thinks is wrong with Phil’s opinion. He leaves still angry and irritated, but also disappointed in himself for not doing what he had decided earlier.

When this happens, many of us think that it’s some failure within us—perhaps we don’t have the will power, we aren’t “enlightened” enough, or we should be able to control ourselves better. Yet these kinds of changes, where we fundamentally shift a habitual pattern of reaction, are not simple changes to make, nor were most of us taught growing up how to make them. We can learn, however, and below is a guide to the process of creating these behavioral shifts.

Becoming Aware

The first step in making a change is becoming aware of what it is you want to change; if you’re not aware then you’re not aware, and things pass you by with no opportunity to try something different. Early in the process, you might become aware days later, realizing that you experienced a situation that is still causing you pain, and that you want to change how you respond.

We start work from whenever we get this awareness—whether it’s weeks, days, hours, or minutes later. Eventually, through doing the rest of the process repeatedly, we get to the point where we are aware in the moment that we have a choice to do something new.

After Brian’s first meeting, he stayed and angry and unaware, and a few days after the second meeting he saw that he had reacted in a similar way and realized that he was not enjoying the situation with Phil and wanted to do something else. He has shortened the time of his becoming aware, but in the moment during the meeting he still got caught up in what was happening and reacted as usual. He is not yet aware in the moment.

This, as I see it, is one of the most conceptually difficult pieces of the whole process—creating awareness, teaching the mind to spontaneously generate an idea. In order to develop this awareness and teach the mind a new pattern, it is necessary to develop cues, something that reminds you and sparks awareness in that moment. These cues can be bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts, or something in the situation itself, such as hearing particular words come out of your mouth or recognizing the pattern of an interaction. The cue alerts you that you are in this situation where you want to be making a different choice.

Brian might notice a particular sensation in his body that alerts him that he is becoming irritated, or he might notice when he begins to move forward in his chair. If there’s a particular thought he thinks when he hears Phil speak, like “Oh boy, here he goes again,” that can be another cue to spark awareness.

Using Awareness to Learn

Once we become aware of a situation where we reacted in a way we aren’t pleased with, regardless of how long afterwards, we reflect back upon what has happened and learn from it. We think about our experience, building the muscles of our metacognition (thinking about our thinking). The key piece of this part of the process is mourning. When you think about what happened and mourn the needs not met, it helps you be clear that you would like those needs to be met.

In reflecting on the meeting, Brian mourns that his needs for harmony and collaboration with his team were not met by his reactions to Phil. He also realizes that he reacts to Phil because he is afraid that if the direction Phil is advocating is chosen, then Brian will be pushed out of the project, which won’t meet his needs for contribution or acknowledgment of his previous work.

Creating Alternatives

When you are aware of the needs not met, you can then strategize how you might meet those needs. When you think about the situation, consider what you would like to have done differently. This gives you a possible alternative behavior to the habitual pattern you automatically react from.

When Brian thinks about what happened in the meetings, he might decide that he would like to first take a few deep breaths as soon as he notices that he is becoming angry and connect with his needs, then express himself. As he practices doing those while thinking about the meeting, even role-playing with another person, he is making those options more likely to occur to him in a similar situation.

Mourning and practicing alternative strategies also prompts an increase in awareness, and by that I mean it prompts awareness earlier in the process. Instead of that forehead-hitting moment being later, you can eventually get to the point where the awareness comes in the moment when you can actually choose. Then we need to have at least one alternative in mind to try; if we only have our usual reaction as a possibility then we will fall into that pattern automatically.

Choosing the Alternative Option

Once we develop awareness in the moment that we would like to do something different and we have at least one alternative option, we will have to choose that option. Numerous times, I have been in an interaction with someone where I realized that I was in this same situation, I knew I had other possible ways I could react, and I chose not to. I’ve even had the thought “I’m going to create a wreck here” and I go ahead and choose my habitual reaction and create a wreck anyway.

In the next meeting, when Brian uses his cues to become aware that he is getting angry, he remembers that he practiced taking deep breaths and connecting with his needs before saying anything, but in that moment he has to make the choice to not go down the same path he’s been before and to choose the new behavior. It helps to have really mourned the needs not met in the habitual choice, because in the moment that habitual choice can feel satisfying. Remembering that it really does not meet our needs helps us overcome that momentary satisfaction to try something that is more satisfying in the long run.

Doing the New Behavior

Finally, you actually do your new behavior, what you had practiced. You may not do it perfectly; it may end up being a combination of new and old behavior, you just do the best you can in that moment. In developing awareness, creating a new option, and choosing that option, you are building capacity; doing the behavior is about having the skills to implement your choice.

Part of this skill is having a new lexicon; we use a different language than what our culture steeps us in, one that has distinctions buried in it that allow us to see things differently. Through coming up with new options and then practicing what we would actually say in the situation, we begin to internalize the lexicon so that it will be available to us in the moment of awareness when we need it. It takes time and practice to be able to implement the choice in the way you would like when in the heat of the moment.

As Brian takes his few deep breaths and connects with himself, he gets in touch with his need to contribute and for harmony and collaboration with his teammates. He then takes one more deep breath, and says what he had practiced; “I’m concerned when I hear you talking about the project that way, Phil, because I would like to have some assurance that the weeks of work we have already put in to this are not being thrown out. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to tell me how you see the link between what we have been working on and what you are proposing?”

Learning Again

After you implement your new behavior, however imperfectly, you can then reflect again on the situation and celebrate what you did and how it met your needs, and mourn any needs not met. Consider whether your strategy felt satisfying or whether you would like to try something else, and if so, what new option you could try. You might also decide that your strategy was ok, but you would like more practice to be able to implement it more fully next time, and find a way to get that practice. Continuing to reflect on how your behavior did or did not meet your needs, strategizing how to meet your needs, and practicing those strategies (preferably with someone else in role-playing scenarios), helps you build the capacity, skills, and lexicon to make new choices in the moment.

Post by Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles

Crossing the Chasm

When I do something that stimulates pain in another person and they tell me about it, often the trajectory for me is generally the same; I start out thinking that it’s all the other person and none of it is my fault. I protect myself and place all the blame elsewhere. Even in talking to someone else about it I notice that I frame it to remove all responsibility from myself.

Sound familiar?

We teach a process or map called Making Amends that can reconnect us to the other person. I’ll talk more about that map in another post, but before we can use it, we need to get to the point where we are willing to use it.

This can feel like a big chasm; we’re standing on one rim, feeling disconnected from ourselves and the other person, blaming, judging, and protecting ourselves, and not wanting to know their side of the story but definitely wanting our side to be heard. Far off on the other rim we know there’s a possibility of being willing to hear the other person and take the steps that might lead to reconnection, but it often feels like there’s no way to cross the chasm.

After all, it’s easy to say “just forgive” or “have compassion” or “put yourself in the other person’s shoes,” but how do we actually do that?

As long as we stay in the blame and shame game, where it’s either all our fault or not our fault at all but all the other person’s fault, we stay on this side of the chasm. It’s a process to cross over, a process we must choose to go through if we wish to reach the other side. Here are a few thoughts about what I have found helps make that choice easier and concrete ways to cross the chasm.

When I’m in my own distress about a situation, I can resist going into any process; being willing to shift into self-connection comes from being aware of the pain I’m in and wanting relief from that, as well as from the experience of having that pain relieved in the past through self-connection. If you’re getting started and don’t have that experience yet, just try it out and see what happens for you; you can fairly quickly begin to build up that experience.

There are many different ways you can go about self-connection; the way I do it is through breath, body and needs. I focus initially on my breath, elongating it, making it more regular, and feeling it enter and exit my body. I then check in with what sensations I’m feeling in my body. Finally, I look for what needs of mine are or are not met. If I find myself spinning out in my distressing thoughts, I return again to breath, body, and needs.

Doing the self-connection process makes it easier then to go into the Enemy Image Process, the map we use when we have a judgment about another person. I find it very helpful, particularly in a situation where I am still highly stimulated, to have another person support me in going through this process. The other person keeps me focused through asking questions and supporting me in the inquiry process. When I do it on my own it’s easier to get caught up in intrusive thoughts that tear me away from doing that process and carry me back into believing my judgments.

In the Enemy Image Process, we deepen into the needs of our own that we are trying to meet in the thoughts we have, and then begin to guess what might be going on for the other person. We then consider what we have learned from connecting with our own and the other person’s needs, and how we might want to proceed.

Doing all of this self-connection work gets me to a point where I’m willing to really hear the other person and be in the making amends process. Even after years of practicing, I still have to do this work before I am able to fully be in the process. It’s still a huge chasm for me to cross; I cannot just flip a switch and say that I’m going to make amends. My initial reaction is still that the other person is wrong and I’m blameless.

I experienced this in a recent retreat, where a facilitation I did in the midst of a number of things happening in the room resulted in a participant feeling very hurt. I only found out about it the next morning, and I felt so upset and misunderstood; I was in distress over how it could be that I had gone to sleep with this idea that I had done a really sweet piece of facilitation and celebrating all the needs met, only to find out that one of those involved had been highly triggered from it and her needs not met at all. I had no compassion, no interest in seeing my contribution to the situation; in fact when I first sought support I could even see how I was trying to shape the story so that I would be blameless.

I could try to do the steps of making amends while still on this side of the chasm, but if I did, my underlying thoughts and judgments would leak out in my words, tone, and body language. The process would not be as likely to work even if I’m saying all the right things because my intention wouldn’t be in alignment with my words.

Since I have a lifetime of trying out the route of staying on the blaming side of the chasm and seeing the unsatisfactory results, even in these times when I am in my own pain and distress I know there’s another option and that in choosing it I will much prefer what unfolds. As I go through self-connection processes, I can get to the point where I regret that I’ve had the impact I’ve had, and sincerely mourn the consequences of my actions, all without sliding into blaming and judging myself. I begin to be able to see how the other person’s reaction makes sense, not necessarily to me but to them. I’m better able to step into their shoes and get it from their perspective.

We talk about how our training includes both personal growth and skill development, and this is an example of how those two are different. The skill development is knowing the map of making amends, the language to use to convey what we want to communicate, tracking the process and knowing where we are in it, the likely impact of some language over other language, and so on. The personal growth, though, is having done it enough times to know that I want to do it—I want to cross that chasm when I come upon it because I can more clearly see the other side and the promise that lies there. I have done it enough so that I can do my own self-connection work much more quickly (in this case in three hours while I was facilitating a training) so that I can reach out to try to heal the rift.

We build a bridge across the chasm by doing these practices, and each time we do the process we are strengthening that bridge, making it a little easier to cross the chasm the next time we find ourselves on the rim.

Post by Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles

Pattern of Disconnection: Getting The Point Across

I have noticed a pattern of disconnection that occurs when I am really exited to communicate something. Often this pattern shows up when I have an insight that I am impassioned about and want to pass along because it has great meaning for me. It generally is an insight that has not been obvious until it suddenly becomes obvious, and I’m so excited about experiencing that shift in clarity that I want to communicate the insight and its meaning in my life.

What happens is that either the person I’m talking to asks a question that I interpret to mean they haven’t quite understood, or I get a sense from their facial expression or body language that they aren’t getting what I want to communicate. This prompts me to say more; I say it in a different way, maybe embellishing, making it longer, or using different words, essentially trying to explain it to them from another angle. I continue based on their body language and facial expression and the absence of cues that I would interpret as them getting what I’m saying or being as interested and excited about it as I would like them to be.

I tend to get very excited and drawn into trying to get my point across. It feels a bit like being on autopilot; I get into the urgency and the back-and-forth between myself and the other person without checking in to see if they want more, if what I’m saying is helpful, or if they’re enjoying it. I just keep giving more information. I’m off in another world, disconnected from myself and from the other person.

I not only want understanding, I want to contribute. The urgency I feel comes from wanting to be heard about how meaningful and important the insight is to me, the value it has contributed to my life. I’m hoping and projecting that this insight will have as much impact on their life as it has had on mine. Since I’m excited about what it has done for me, I’m also excited about the possible benefit that would come from incorporating this insight into their life. I want to give them that gift.

When we get an insight that makes a big difference to us, there’s a way we can go about sharing it with others that can be off-putting. The energy with which we share it can have echoes of demand energy in it; we get so excited about the impact on our lives that we try to shove the insight on others around us out of our desire to contribute. When we’re not connected with ourselves, it can easily come across like pushing a gift at somebody and demanding that they take it.

The danger here is that when we feel demand from someone else, our need for autonomy tends to come up; so if I’m sharing my insight but someone is hearing a demand, their body language or words are likely to convey this, and I am likely to interpret that they are not getting it yet and continue to try to get my point across. It becomes a feedback loop that continues to increase the disconnection.

These kinds of feedback loops are what we want to break; we find a way to step in to the pattern, re-insert connection with ourselves and then try to re-connect with the other person.

The way I’ve found to do that with this pattern is in stopping and asking for reflection. When I realize I’m repeating myself with this urgency, I’m learning to stop and say something like “You know, I’m beginning to repeat myself, and I just would like to know whether you’re understanding what I would like you to understand; will you tell me what you have heard thus far?”

I often feel relieved when I do so; just the act of stopping my rushing torrent of words gives that energy of urgency space to dissipate and I begin to relax inside. I can reconnect with myself, and choose what to say next instead of being on autopilot. I have a moment to wake up and shift my attention to the other person, hearing what they say as well as attending to their body language, intonation, and word choice. All of this information helps me recalibrate; I know from their answer whether I need to say anything more or address specific things, so I know where to go next in the conversation.

I have found that my interpretation of what I’m reading from their expression and body language may not be accurate; I may be continuing to try to explain something that they have actually already understood, and they’re just puzzled about what they would do with it. I don’t know unless I stop and ask.

It’s been a progression (through a number of years) to get myself to the point where I am even aware enough to make the choice of asking for reflection. Conceptually it’s not difficult; what is difficult is to remember when in the heat of the moment. I noticed that this pattern would also come up in trainings—sometimes I would notice after-the-fact or my co-facilitators would let me know that I had again fallen into this urgency to get a point across.

I used the processes we teach in our trainings to become aware sooner. As I would reflect on a particular training or conversation, I would recall a time when I was repeating myself and had not stopped to ask for reflection, and would use the Mourn Celebrate Learn process to mourn the lost opportunity as well as celebrate the things I had enjoyed in the training. Doing this over time has brought me to a point where I much more consistently now notice when I’m feeling urgent and anxious that I’m not getting my point across and beginning to repeat myself. In trainings now, when I notice I’m repeating myself I can ask “is there someone who’d be willing to tell me what they’ve heard thus far so I can get some assurance that I’m getting my thought across?”

We can facilitate our becoming aware of these kinds of patterns through making agreements with other people. For example, I made an agreement with my training partner John Kinyon that if he heard me in this pattern of urgency and repetition during a workshop he would simply interrupt me and say “Excuse me, Ike, I just want to check and see if there’s anybody in the room who is having any trouble understanding what you’re saying.” He would go straight to what I wished I was doing, which helped remind me in the moment that I wanted to be doing that. These kinds of supporting agreements can remind you in the moment to become aware and make a new choice.

In these patterns that result in disconnection, we need that first step to start the process of reconnecting. For me, asking for reflection when I’m feeling urgent and repeating myself does that; it decouples me from the runaway disconnection occurring. I can then reconnect internally and listen to what’s actually going on for the other person (instead of what I think is going on), and the conversation can proceed in a direction we both are more likely to enjoy.

Post by Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles

Interpersonal Interactions as Catalysts for Change

Interpersonal relationships provide an ongoing arena in which to practice NVC mediation skills, as well as a place to see how old patterns show up and make new choices in our behavior. Since much of this learning is about patterns that are habitual, it often takes some time to first notice the pattern and then find a way in to change it.

I look back at conversations that did not go very well—we ended up disconnected—to see if I can find where that disconnection starts, or at least where I can notice it in myself. It might be a way that I feel, something I notice in my behavior, or something I say. Identifying that point where disconnection starts (or where I notice it is already happening) can then serve as a cue in future conversations that I am disconnected.

Once I have the cue, then I can also figure out a way to bring myself back into connection with myself and the other person. It’s often just a first step that I need, a reminder, something to do that is different than what I’m already doing.

I will be sharing some of these points of disconnection in interpersonal conversations in upcoming blog posts. I hope that pointing out what I notice happening that precedes disconnection or indicates that I am becoming disconnected will help you inquire into your own patterns in interpersonal conversations. In addition, I’ll be sharing the first step that I have found effective to begin to bring myself back into being present, and hope it encourages you to take similar steps.

In this post, I wanted to introduce this idea as well as talk briefly about the progression that tends to happen from feeling caught in a pattern and wanting to change it (but unable to) to having the awareness in the moment to make another choice. This progression requires repeatedly going through the learning cycle, which you can read about in more depth in this article. In essence, though, the cycle is to reflect on a conversation that did not go as you would have liked and mourn the lost opportunity to do what you want. Mourning in this way helps you create the clarity about what you would like to do in the future, and you can then practice so that this new choice will be more available.

I find going through this process also tends to relax something in me so that the next time I’m in a similar situation, it’s easier to be aware of what I’m doing. Still, there can be periods of time during which I will have momentary flickers of awareness that don’t come up enough into consciousness for me to stop and choose an alternative. Repeating this whole cycle over time–having those flickers, using the Mourn Celebrate Learn process after, noticing what I want to do instead, even practicing it–eventually brings me to a point where I much more consistently notice in the moment and make the change I want to make. Thus, when you repeat this process every time you notice the same pattern come up in a conversation, it helps you shorten the time before you become aware that you are caught in the pattern and be able to eventually shift it through different choices you make in the moment.

Another way to support yourself in making the changes you want to make is through agreements. You can make agreements with yourself about how you want to act in the future, and also involve other people and ask for their support. If you notice the same pattern showing up with one particular person, you can make an agreement with them that when they notice you doing or saying something they will interrupt you, giving them the actual words to say. Making commitments to ourselves I find helpful, and our changes can come about even more quickly when we enlist the support of those around us.

Are you already aware of any patterns that show up repeatedly in your interpersonal conversations—perhaps with family members or work colleagues—that you would like to begin to shift?

Post by Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles

“You’re So Great!” On Being, And Making Others, The Object Of Idealized Images

We all project both positive and negative images onto other people. In our negative images we judge, label, and diagnose; in positive ones, we admire, label, and even revere. The effect is essentially the same; whether we are projecting our positive or negative images onto another person, we put them in a box. We limit their full humanity, consigning them to the boundaries of our label.

Now that I’m in the role of a teacher, I am sometimes the recipient of positive images from other people, and, as we all do, I have also projected my own positive images onto others, notably celebrities. For example, if I went to a gathering and certain people—political or media celebrities—sat down next to me, I would feel awkward and not know what to say. I would feel uncomfortable because of my idealized images of them.

I notice that I feel equally uncomfortable when someone has positive images of me. In this article, I’d like to share my reactions on both sides, when I’m the object and when I’m making someone else the object of positive images, as well as what I would like to be able to do in either situation.

My Idealized Images of Others

I feel very uncomfortable if I’m in a public place and a celebrity is there; I’ve been in various settings—airports, restaurants—where suddenly a flurry of activity happens because a celebrity of some sort is nearby. First I have my reaction and I’m uncomfortable and embarrassed about that, and then I notice the reaction of the people I’m with and it embarrasses me that they are reacting that way.

The reaction I have is thinking that somehow the person is better than me. I’ve been around movie celebrities whose work had touched me and I wanted to be able to connect with them in a very human way that did not put them up on a pedestal; that accepted all of who they are. I wanted to be able to give them feedback without it dehumanizing them or me, to say something like; “I’ve seen several of your movies and in this particular movie when your character was dealing with this issue, it really touched me, I’ve thought about it many times since and I just wanted to know that and to thank you very much for the work that you do.” I have wanted to give similar feedback to writers whose writing has helped me have insights or clarified distinctions that helped me live my life more in the way I’d like. Yet I have never able to give this feedback because I felt estranged. I imagine there’s some kind of barrier between us, and I don’t know how to reach out in a way that would maintain their humanity and mine.

There’s a part of me that sees that I’m doing it to myself—I’m the one putting up this barrier between me and the other person, and I get upset at myself because I can’t just think it away. I feel like I am putting them in a prison, and in doing so also putting myself in a prison. I desperately want to get out of it and I don’t have a magic wand to wave in that moment to escape.

I’ve also experienced times when this pattern does not happen. I’ve been in situations with people who are well-known or in the same fields and have not put up the same barrier, or not to the same extent. In one situation my kids were there and had a rapport with the person, which helped me have some connection. I have a friend I’ve known for 30 years who has now written a couple of books that have been very moving to me and he is becoming well-known in his field, and I have not blocked myself from being able to tell him that he wrote two books that shook my world. I sat on the airplane once flying across the Atlantic next to a Hollywood director, and we had a fascinating conversation the whole way; I had never heard of him before, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or limited or alienated from talking to him about his work; I was just curious about his experience.

This is the kind of experience I want to have with any celebrity; I don’t want to interrupt these people in the midst of going about their business, but if we sat down next to each other on a plane I would want to feel comfortable to just banter for a few minutes. I would like to be at ease, to be able to engage and express appreciation and gratitude if that’s what comes up, or just be curious, as I was sitting next to the Hollywood director on the airplane. I would like to give that person the gift of my being at ease in their presence, to be able to just receive them however they are showing up in that moment, without any predetermination about what I would say or do. I imagine that would be a contribution because when the roles are reversed I find it uncomfortable to be around someone who’s uncomfortable being with me because they think I’m someone special.

One of my kids has this gift, of just being a satisfying human being to hang out with. I would drive him around when he was a kid to various events and, whether we were talking or not, being in his presence felt like a balm to my spirit. I would like to be able to give that gift to myself and then to everyone I meet, and not cut myself off from it by having a positive but dehumanizing image of someone.

When I’m the Object of an Idealized Image

When I’m the object of an idealized image and someone says something that’s generally laudatory to me, I feel immediately uncomfortable, and my first impulse is to flee. I get scared; if someone has an idealized image of me then I don’t get to be seen, and my first reaction is fear and flight. My reaction happens almost as quickly as if I had seen a rattlesnake in front of me, before any cognitive process takes place. I think that reaction comes from a sense that I don’t really get to exist to them; I’m not alive, I don’t get to be me, and I won’t be accepted for all the parts of me, including my foibles.

I then have all these thoughts about how, based on what the person has just said, they don’t really know me. If they say something about how kind or tender I am, I’m thinking “Well yeah, but how about his other part of you that gets grumpy and can be rude and mean and self-centered?” I tend not to accept their appreciation and I deprecate it in some way; I often give them the counterpoint to whatever compliment they’ve given me and turn it into a joke. For example, if someone says something about how touched they were by the depth of my care for someone, I may joke and say “Well, I wish it was always the case, but I fall way short of the kind of care I would like to have all too often, but thank you.”

What I would like to do instead is to be willing to accept what the other person is saying and guess their needs, maybe even empathizing out loud with them. I have this idea that if I don’t give them the counterpoint to what they said then I’m agreeing with them, but that’s not necessarily true. If I stay interested in what needs the person is meeting by saying what they are saying it helps me connect to them. I think often in the moment of speaking to someone we hold an idealized image of we don’t necessarily say what we mean or use the best words to convey what’s really true for us, we just kind of blurt something out. If I can connect to what’s going on for the person that is prompting them to talk to me, I can get beyond what they’ve said and my own immediate reaction to it.

I’ve taught myself to go toward someone who is giving negative feedback with a kind of care and tenderness. I have a similar reaction in those situations of fear and flight, but through practice I can now move through that reaction by staying focused on finding the need behind what the person is saying. When someone is bringing positive feedback to me I am not as effective at being able to lean towards them and find out with some richness and understanding what is motivating them to say what they said and what it really means to them underneath the words. I would like to pay that same level of attention, care, and curiosity when someone brings me positive feedback as when they give negative feedback.

What’s interesting to me is that even though these two situations—projecting my own positive images onto someone else and being the recipient of positive images—feel very different as I’m experiencing them, the needs I’d like to meet are very similar. I want to have connection and companionship with people, get closer to knowing them, and for them to get to know me. I want a kind of equality, to get to be me and be seen and valued for who I am. Whether I have the idealized image of another person or it is directed toward me, I would like to create a sense of shared humanity between us.

Post by Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles

Message Sent, Message Received

We’ve all experienced times when we thought we understood someone or they understood us, only to later find out that we are on totally different pages. We end up wondering how this could have happened when we thought we were clearly communicating with each other. Yet if we think about it, we might find that regardless of how important our communication is we often give it short shrift, assuming that the message sent and the message received are the same.

Instead of assuming, we can take a few simple steps when we want to ensure that they are the same. The communication between air traffic control and aircraft pilots provides a lesson in how to do this.

Here’s a short exchange between an Air Canada flight and air traffic control:

ATC: “Air Canada 452, good afternoon, taxi Whiskey and Delta for runway 06 left”
AC 452: “Whiskey and Delta for 6 left, 452”
ATC: “Air Canada 452 continue on Delta, hold short of 6 left”
AC 452: “Delta, hold short of 6 left”
ATC: “Air Canada 452 taxi into position 6 left”
AC 452: “Roger into position, 452″[1]

Though we may not understand the cryptic jargon, the pattern is clear; the receiving party repeats what they understood the message to be. In what can easily be a life and death situation, it has been instilled into the culture and the communication patterns that it is important to make sure that the message sent is the same as the message received.

This might seem abnormal in terms of the way we typically communicate, yet there are simple ways to make sure you are heard the way you would like or that you understand someone else that sound natural and commonplace. We can take these steps as either the person sending the communication or the person receiving it, simply through making a request.

Let’s start with when we are the speaker and want to know whether we have communicated clearly with someone. What we often say in a situation like this is something like “Do you understand?” and then accept the reply of “Yes.” Yet we actually have no basis for trusting that understanding has been reached; we don’t know what the other person has understood, and it may in fact not be at all what we intended that they understand. Instead of asking if the person has understood, we might instead say something like this; “I want to trust that you and I are on the same wavelength, would you mind telling me the gist of what you just heard me say?”

If you are listening to someone and they ask you whether you’ve understood, instead of saying yes, you can check your understanding by saying “Well, what I hear you saying is this…” If they do not ask you, but you still want to ensure that you’ve heard what they want you to hear, you can say something like, “Hold on, I just want to make sure I understand what you’re telling me, is this what you’re saying…?” Then reflect back what you heard. You don’t have to repeat everything the person said, just reflect the key piece as you understand it. Make sure you phrase it as a question, or state it and then ask “Is that right?” or “Is that what you were hoping to get across?” Doing so also helps the speaker to clarify and be more specific about what they are trying to say.

In either case, whether you are sending the message or receiving it, notice that these examples start with enrolling the person in why you are asking the question. Since these are not typical communication patterns, letting the person know the motivation for them is connecting: responding to the request might meet your needs for trust, understanding, or clarity, for example.

Checking that the message sent is the message received is helpful in a number of situations. When we want to make sure instructions are clear, such as when we are giving direction to someone who reports to us in a work situation, we might want some assurance that they have understood what we are asking. If we have been in a meeting where a number of action items have been agreed upon, we might use a similar format to summarize and make sure that agreements are clear. Asking a kind of wrap-up question, such as “Here is what I have down that we have agreed on…. Is there anything that I’ve missed?” helps everyone be clear about the outcomes of the meeting.

Confirming our communication is also important when we want to be heard about something that has affected us; perhaps a decision was made without our input that impacts our ability to do our work effectively. When we discuss the effect of the decision with our boss, we might want to take steps to ensure that he or she hears what we are really saying and not adding in an interpretation that we do not intend.

Making these types of requests in our communication supports understanding, being heard in the way we would like, and clarity of communication. In the next week, see if you can use these questions both when you are speaking to someone else and want to be understood, as well as when someone else is speaking to you. What do you notice?

Post by Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles

[1] From http://www.canairradio.com/ttt.html

Shame

A few days ago I had an important conference call and in the days before the call, I was feeling anxious and distressed anticipating the call but unclear about why. I went for a walk the day of the call, and during the walk I realized I was feeling ashamed. I had the belief that the other four folks on the call were expecting me to be clear and ready to decide on something that was important to all five of us.

Instead, I was not clear at all about the decision.

In my culture of origin, confusion was not acceptable; it would show weakness. The prevailing norm was that you had to be clear, concise, on point, and tracking, and if you weren’t then you were “lesser than,” you were weak. Of course it was dangerous to be weak in every way possible—physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

Thus, as I unpacked all of this in anticipation of the conference call, I realized that I was ashamed that I was “weak” in not being clear about what I wanted to do, and I was ashamed that I was ashamed.

Up until about six months ago, I had not ever, to my memory, acknowledged that I felt ashamed. In my family of origin, you did not acknowledge that feeling—it was shameful to feel ashamed. This came to my awareness in reading a number of things, including Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. I was talking about it in workshops a lot and realized that instead of acknowledging shame, I had always said I was embarrassed. Most of my life I had conflated shame and embarrassment.

As I walked, then, I imagined a whole dialogue of letting the others on the conference call in on my realization during my check in. Thinking through the script of that dialogue brought me a lot of relief, and then I realized I was now anxious about revealing this to people. After all, everything I was planning to reveal was taboo—being confused (and therefore “weak”) and being ashamed.

Nonetheless, after everyone else checked in, I told them my story.

It was scary to do so—my heart rate was up and my palms were clammy as I related the above to them. I then asked for feedback, and I was very moved by their feedback and really liked how the conversation went after that. I was so relieved to have shared what I said, especially because the contrast between how I had felt before and after was clear.

I was no longer affected by this huge issue of my lack of clarity about the decision; it was like this big burden was relieved from me. All of my tormented thinking about my confusion was removed and I could just be in the meeting and say, “I’m not clear and I would like to get clarity.” I could break it down into specific things I was not clear about and talk them through, getting collaboration from people on the call. We ended up making a decision that all five of us seemed pleased with.

As I reflected on this later, it made me think about how hiding our shame—being ashamed of being ashamed—is exactly what gives it more power. Revealing it and including others in our experience dissipates that power; the shame fades under the light of revelation. This is exactly the opposite of what the shame is telling us to do. Our shame instructs us to hide it, both whatever we are ashamed of and the fact that we are ashamed, and when we listen to it, we stay imprisoned under it. As soon as I revealed it, difficult though that was, all the anxiety and stress I had experienced faded away.

Liberation lies just beyond revealing the truth of our experience.

I encourage you to inquire into those areas where you feel shame, and see what you find. How, in a safe way, might you share these feelings with someone close to you, just as an experiment to see what happens as a result?

Post by Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles

Email and Task Overwhelm: Part 2

By Ike Lasater and Julie Stiles

At one level of dealing with the issue of overwhelm is just getting organized and creating a system to handle the “incoming” of things to do. Both of us are using some version of David Allen’s system known as Getting Things Done (GTD) for this aspect of handling overwhelm. In this realm, we have found at least three aspects of the process to be key:

  1. Choosing what programs to use for email, calendar, and tasks. This requires knowing something about yourself and how you work. Do you want everything online so you can access it from anywhere? Do you want some things, such as your tasks, offline so you have them whether or not you have internet access? Also consider how those programs communicate with each other and sync across whatever different computers and mobile devices you use.
  2. Beyond the tools you use, there is the task of getting everything you have to do into those tools, which often seems to be overwhelming in and of itself if you are starting from scratch.
  3. Then, there’s creating a system that you can trust to get all of your tasks processed and reviewed on a regular basis so important projects and activities don’t get lost.

Each one of these pieces is important. I (Julie) have organized all my tasks multiple times, yet each time because I did not have a trusted system for processing and review, I soon felt overwhelmed again and stopped even looking at my task management program. Then I would blame the program (it wasn’t robust enough, didn’t have the features I wanted, etc) and some time later try another tool to get myself organized.

This time, I am working to come up with a system that will help me collect everything, review it regularly (daily, weekly, and monthly), and take action on the things that are important to me.

Of course, setting up these systems and maintaining them can bring up all of our resistance, which might show up in these forms:

  • Overwhelm
  • Procrastination
  • Doing less important but “easier” things
  • Escaping

Simply getting ourselves organized and creating a system won’t help with these. In upcoming posts, we will look at what we’ve tried in the past, a process we went through to identify what’s underneath the response we each have to our “incoming,” and an experiment we’ve developed to see if we can shift the pattern of overwhelm.

Until then, how are you doing with the systems side of managing your incoming?

Email and Task Overwhelm: Part 1

By Ike Lasater and Julie Stiles

Ever sat in front of your email or task management program and felt overwhelmed? Too many emails, too much to do…where do you start?

Both of us have been confronting this issue recently. I (Ike) mostly find it when I go to my email. When I’m in a certain state I feel like I do not have the resources and resiliency to respond to perceived challenges, or “incoming” as aikido teacher Wendy Palmer calls it.

My email becomes the challenge and the thought that I need to read and respond to all these people causes me to cringe inside. I shy away. I was raised around horses as a boy, and if a horse sees something they are afraid of, they shy away from it; you cannot get them to move toward it. I get that same sense inside of myself; I pull away and just can’t get myself to go toward reading my email.

I’m afraid of opening up and reading email and having my ability to deal with them be overwhelmed, and that anxiety makes me shy away from even looking at email. If I do manage to get myself to open email, I might pull away from certain emails that I don’t want to deal with, those where I feel a dread and heaviness when I look at the subject line. Time makes it worse because, of course, emails do not exactly stop coming when I’m in this state. Before I know it, I have 600 emails in my inbox.

I (Julie) experience a similar pattern; it comes up around both email and my task list, but I’ll focus on my task list. When I look at my list of things I need or want to do, I feel myself internally begin to turn away, much as Ike described his “shying” away. I want to do them all (or I would not have bothered putting them on the list) or I need to do them to avoid negative consequences I don’t like.

But there are too many; I feel overwhelmed by the sheer number and the amount of time they would take. It seems impossible to do them all. I have no sense of how to choose or where to start. Of course, since I constantly add more things I need or want to do, the problem just continues to get worse.

I then avoid dealing with my task list at all because I don’t like the feeling I have when I look at it. I become reactive, dealing with the immediate things that I know need to be dealt with, but not tracking much else. Certainly, I’m not proactively planning to move toward the things I want, and I lose sight of what’s important to me.

We are exploring various approaches—from the systematic to the esoteric—to working with this issue and will be sharing them in a series of upcoming posts. We’d love to hear from you—if you experience something similar when you look at your email or task list, what have you tried?