But I can't. The words, no matter how ridiculous, painful, or destructive, are out there doing their damage, and I am left holding the putrid bag of responsibility for whatever destruction my words might wreak.
That is why I advise the people I help to try and avoid using their brains when communicating. While that sounds counter-intuitive, the truth is that communication is all about your guts and your heart.
We all have stories we create about ourselves and others. Generally speaking, when we are stressed, a lot of those stories are based on our fears. Our brains fabricate worst case scenarios and project them onto people and events faster than even we know that we are doing it. By the time we realize what is going on, we have created a personal hell in which we suffer at the hands of others and from which there is no escape.
As you might have guessed, this does not have to be the case. I have already written a bit about Clutch Communication and the value of practice and personal values. This is where you have the power to override your brain. You practice training your heart and your guts to take over.
When I train to listen with my guts and speak with my heart, I am basically training myself to slow down, allow space for the person or people to whom I am speaking, and to make space for myself in the conversation. I am training myself to understand on a very basic level that it is okay to be wrong. I am making sure that I am not preparing what I want to say while others are speaking. I am listening. I am also watching for any knee-jerk defensive reactions that I might have to anything that is said.
Defensiveness and not listening are characteristics of a person who only wants to be right. Clutch communication is not about being right or winning arguments. It is about compassion and generosity, first and foremost for yourself. It is about resolution, not revolution. It is about knowing yourself. That is what practice provides. The more you practice in clutch situations, the more you learn about yourself and the more you can define what you need when you leave a conversation.
It is like practicing any type of physical endeavor, be it dance, drawing, baseball or ping pong. You are training your body to react in specific and highly efficient ways in specific situations so you don't have time to think. You are practicing overriding the stories in your brain.
It is the same with communication. You must practice and build up the muscle memory in your heart and your guts so that your brain does not have the opportunity to tell you stories of pity and woe. When I was younger, I thought I had to be right. I thought I had to fight. I thought it was best to be confrontational and acceptable to say anything that was on my mind, as long as I considered that stuff to be true. While I might win the argument, I would leave the conversation with a bad taste in my mouth because I knew I had hurt someone to get there. After a while, I started to suspect that I was just a bully rationalizing my bad behavior because in my mind, I was right. The realization was tough, but it helped me to alter my behavior so that it was more in line with my values.
No matter what anyone tells you, it is always best to let your guts do the listening and your heart do the talking. You let your head into the conversation and you are sunk. I will, as always, provide you with an example.
Very recently I was pulled into a certain individual's office quite by surprise and attacked with a line of questioning which displayed this individual's intense aggravation with my behavior. As I sat there across from him, watching his eyes roll at me and listening to him cross examine me about things I had said and done, I knew that I had a choice. I could lower myself to this fear-based type of communication, further skew the message I was hearing by making assumptions about his motivation, or I could stay calm, state the facts, and speak from my heart. I could choose to speak about the only things that I truly know; what I need and what I am not getting.
I was able to listen with my guts and speak from my heart because I have had the opportunity to practice this repeatedly over the last twenty years, and while I have made the wrong choice many times, this time, I remembered my training, and my guts and heart took right over.
I expressed to him what I was experiencing, what I needed out of the conversation, and I was honest about the anxiety his behavior had induced. I was open to hearing about anything I might have misunderstood and anything I might have been wrong about. I took him at his word. I did not try and figure out his level of honesty, his level of commitment to the resolution or his willingness to resolve the problem. I did not judge, I did not presume.
By the end of the conversation, he was taking responsibility for his part of the misunderstanding and apologizing for rolling his eyes. I felt good leaving his office because I had not put him down (though for a moment I desperately wanted to) and I had not backed down. I left respecting myself.
This conversation could stay behind me. I would not replay it in my head, wishing I would have said something else, and I would not regret horrible things I had said.
After all the work I have done to get here, being in this place is magical. It is trans-formative, it is astounding, and experiencing this success gives me a road map to help me get back there the next time that I need to. This conversation was, in the end, more practice. And it ends up that the guy who rolled his eyes at me is someone who is helping me get to where I want to be.
While I would never tell anyone that this is the way for everyone to look at communication, I do help people communicate in ways that help them know themselves better and feel better about how they leave conversations.
My next blog post will be about how not to take things personally. It is a favorite topic of mine and one which radically changed the way I view myself. I am diving deep and pulling it all together in order to present it in a way that will enable you to scarf it down.