Imagine two strangers walking towards each other on the street. They’re about to cross paths.
She expects him to move out of the way.
He expects her to move out of the way.
As the observer, you think these two monkeys will headbutt each other at any moment.
They come to a standstill. Neither budges.
“Move out of my way, mister.”
“Why don’t you move out of my way?”
Determined, our two protagonists step towards each other…
And POOF! They explode into glitter.
Then we hear Esther Perel’s voice-over: “And this is why couples should listen to each other.”
I struggled with every ounce of emotional strength not to snap at her.
I wanted to say “you’re wrong, but look at it this way, that’s not how it is…”
But I managed to eek out –
Is there anything else?
I was beginning to understand that despite consuming heaps of self-help books, I was a shitty listener.
Deep in argument, we were trying to squeeze through the same proverbial door at the same time. Except there was no glitter.
We were caught in the dance of “listening” to each other but really just waiting for the other person to finish so we can say our rebuttals.
What happens when we allow someone else to pass through this door, free and clear?
If we give space for the other person to completely express themselves, amazing things can happen.
People feel heard. They feel acknowledged. They can soften, and become open to hearing you.
What this practice looks like, in words:
|I hear you. Do you have more to say about that?||I hear you, but… [anything after this won’t be heard]|
|This is what I think I heard. Can you confirm that I understood that?||Try thinking of it this way instead…|
|I see how that’s impacted you.||Fuck you, you ungrateful piece of shit fuck. Fuck!|
During the entire time there’s no validating—nor invalidating—of the feelings of the person you’re listening to. You are just listening and helping them clear out all the emotional gunk they’ve been holding in.
It’s fuckin’ hard. I still struggle with this.
But this practice makes a difference.
Now I understand what hippies mean when they say holding space.
Relating back to this metaphor: give space for someone to pass through that conversational door so that they feel heard and acknowledged.
Then the tension stands a chance of being cleared, because we’ve not only gotten out of the way (by not interrupting), but have also paved the way for the other person to feel complete in their sharing.
Keeping the door open
This practice is hardest when we meet the cognitive dissonance of hearing something we don’t like while giving space for someone to speak. Here are some ideas that help me stay in the tension when I want to blurt back “BUT YOU’RE WRONG!!”
- Acknowledging does not mean you have to agree. We can make others feel heard without agreeing with them.
- Giving someone the time and space to express does not mean that we are giving up our own freedom of expression.
- Consider if we’re projecting values and what the other person’s values and needs might be
- Sometimes, doing nothing and pausing is better than reacting
As with all things worth doing, allow this to be practice, not perfection.
I’m a sucker for a metaphors. I was wondering if “two voices, one channel” would’ve been a more direct tie-in to the idea of giving space in conversation. Just like a radio. You can really only hear things clearly if you focus on one channel at a time.
But there was just something more visceral/visual to me about “two bodies, one door”