Emotions and Logic
As we are all acutely aware, these are very challenging times! The level of fear, anger, distress, sadness and depression, grief and loss, that people are experiencing and displaying is overwhelming for many, and for a multitude of reasons happening simultaneously.
Whether we are speaking about the pandemic and the political versus medical/practical discussions being held by our community members, government officials and leaders, or, having conversations about racial injustice, police brutality, sexual harassment, or more directly talking about the relationships among our collaborative colleagues or between divorcing clients, we must do what we can to ensure that the message does not get lost in the delivery. It is critical that we hear the message, and that the message, does not get lost in the delivery!
Actions and Reactions
In my experience as a psychotherapist, relationship/divorce/communication “expert”, Collaborative professional, and most importantly, a human being, I am continually reminded, how different the outcomes are when information is transmitted effectively versus ineffectively in a multitude of scenarios. As a Facilitator of communication, I observe how messages are sent and received, and how often the meaning underlying what is being said is undermined or negated by the way in which it is being communicated. We must create the space and opportunity for people to utilize their voices and speak their minds. We must also teach people how to do this so that they can be understood, validated, and supported, and at the same time, even in the midst of differing opinions and feelings, heard by all. Every word and action is an invitation for someone to respond or react. To that point, both verbal and non-verbal, tone, body language, facial expressions, and the level of emotion being transmitted, is directly related to how what is being said is acknowledged, accepted, or even considered. In offensive and aggressive transmissions, much of the substance of the communication is lost and the focus then shifts to the conveyance. Instead of making room for a conversation, blaming and shaming occur, walls (shields) go up, defenses are high, minds and hearts are closed, and results are poor. All “sides” involved find themselves in a “lose-lose”.
Necessary Skills for Dialogue – A Shift in Consciousness
Although not a new concept, over this past year, we are all speaking and hearing about the necessity for people to use their voices. Be it the “Me Too Movement, the Political Divide, Police Brutality, or who is to blame for the Pandemic, we must keep talking, and more importantly, listening to each other’s perspective and making efforts to understand each other’s point of view.
Closer to ‘Home’
A Collaborative Colleague and friend of mine, Kevin Scudder from Seattle and I presented a workshop at the IACP Forum in Chicago 2019 on “Having Difficult and Necessary Conversations.” We emphasized that “if our clients were able to effectively communicate, regulate their emotions, and solve problems together, it is not likely they would be getting divorced.” Our clients need our guidance in order to do things differently. My belief is that it is not that they don’t want to, they simply just do not know-how. In highly charged situations, emotions are high and logic is lost. More often than not, our clients come to the Collaborative table lacking the emotional ability, and at times desire, to have these needed conversations. Additionally, although we as Collaborative practitioners have taken training's that teach us about the “paradigm shift” that is necessary in order to assist our clients to successfully resolve their matters, that “shift” is not merely a shift in behavior, but in consciousness. Without a shift in consciousness, real change cannot occur, and it definitely cannot and will not sustain. We must teach, learn, and demonstrate the needed skills to make this shift. This is a continued work in progress and requires continuous inquiry and a higher level of awareness to understand when we are getting in our own and each other’s way. This is where the notion that one must “practice what we preach” is of paramount importance.
Curiosity not Certainty
In our Collaborative settings, and in most circumstances of potential conflict, if people would alter their approach to being curious and compassionate, rather than being forceful or demanding, with their words and actions, the possibility exists that increased empathy can emerge, and resolution and change can happen. Gaining the necessary skills to approach and engage in these conversations in productive ways will enable people to experience the positive outcomes of having direct, meaningful communications, and perhaps peaceful outcomes.
Talk so People Can Listen and Listen so People will Talk
I prefer to refer to myself as a peacemaker. I have often observed people stifling or remaining silent about what they think or feel in an effort to avoid conflict. Ironically, in doing so, conflict, if not always, often ultimately ensues. As a conduit of communication. I choose to live in solutions and not in problems. However, I must first be cognizant of the problem in order to explore and discover solutions.
The kind of unrest that I am observing in the world and experiencing within myself is triggering a need in me to speak up and out about this and engage others to do the same. In order to discover the answers, it is essential for me to pay attention, to hear the message about what is important to another and their need for me to understand. We must all recognize that saying “we understand” is not enough. We’ve all heard the euphemism, “step into someone else’s shoes,” however, the reality is, sometimes, we cannot. We are not them, our experience is not their experience, as much as we think we know, we need to recognize there is way more to see. To be effective, I know I must be vulnerable, and in being so, remain inquisitive, open my heart, and be mindful of what is really happening. I am urging all of you to do the same.
Become the Change you Want to See
Be mindful of the way in which you are showing up and being seen and heard by others. Be mindful of what assumptions you are bringing to the arena and what is getting in the way of a message being heard, and be mindful of your responsibility in that. Instead of focusing on accusing or changing another person, or people involved, begin by looking inward and understanding what can you do to facilitate change. Allow yourself to be with the discomfort of that. Ask yourself what is happening that is keeping another from feeling safe enough to speak openly? Ask what part you have in that? Is it your discomfort? You will be surprised how a small difference in you and what you do can create a difference for another. Modeling these skills for and with our clients is our not only personal and professional responsibility, moreover, it is our ethical responsibility, and may also change the trajectory of the future of our practice as well as our clients’ lives. In essence, doing so, (although admittedly a lofty goal), we could be instrumental in changing interactions in the world, one person, couple, and family at a time.
As Gandhi says, “Become the change that you want to see in the world.”
Randy Heller, PhD, LMFT, LMHC is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Supreme Court Family Mediator, Qualified Parenting Coordinator, Certified Hypnotherapist, as well as Founder and Clinical Director of The Family Network, Collaborative Counseling Center for Positive Growth and Change, established in 1994.