On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
We are all susceptible to blind spots. Happily, I am the kind of person who likes to share mine, so you can have a good laugh, feel like you aren’t alone, and be more willing to look at your own human foibles. I am told this is my secret sauce. Yay for imperfection. We are rockin’ it out together!
This week I was reflecting with Nevada Sidewalk Talk Chapter Leader, Michael Tedesco (thanks Michael). We were both challenging each other and empathizing with each other on different aspects of leadership we both struggle with so that we could support one another in growing. It is so nice when folks can just be bold with you. The leaders crew here are some of my favorite because there is an earnestness to keep on growing through self-reflection, self-responsibility, and dialogue.
Being an earnest human who wants to look at their flaws takes one large sense of humor.
Doing flaws well also takes the ability to take an inventory without shame. I like to make lists of my mistakes and then think through what I can change and what I am just going to have to say “Um that is me and probably will be a flaw I go to the dirt with” so people can feel empowered to choose if I am their cup of tea and I don’t spin my wheels trying to please everyone.
Here is my list of mess ups around connection from the last few weeks. Have a laugh and then make your own. It is really good practice.
1. Believing that people, life, and the world should be a certain way.
When someone uses a tone of voice we don’t like, doesn’t call us back, or is unfair we may want to “should” all over the situation. They should NOT have done x, y, and z. In the podcast with Dr. Christian Conte, he talked about cartoon world and real world.
The more we deny the hard truth of the real world the less likely we are to respond in any sort of connective fashion.
I am not saying not to set limits. Actually, the opposite. But, I notice I have no problem setting a limit when I don’t expect every person to just follow my own inner set of standards. If I get caught up in a “They should have x, y, z” I may be too damn righteous to bother dialoguing. You see how this works?
By assuming, I cut off dialogue. Not great for connection and intimacy.
2. Be clear and up front about what you need in the moment. You might wonder, “But Traci, isn’t that selfish? How does that have to do with connection?”
I will throw it back to you with a question. Have you ever not been clear with someone that they should ‘please take your shoes off before coming into my house’ only to later find mud tracks all over your white carpet?
How did you feel about that person when they didn’t notice they had left a trail of mud in your house? More connected? More intimate? I didn’t think so.
Ok, maybe it is a bad metaphor but usually, when we aren’t clear about what we need, we are not protecting our connections with others, we are jeopardizing them. See how that works?
I had a tech job that I liked but I got so pissed because I was in a new territory that wasn’t making any money. I tried to quit but in a lengthy dialogue with the CEO he confronted me. He said “Traci, you have a right to be paid what you are worth. Rather than getting mad, you could shared what you needed to be financially whole. I support you demanding a raise.”
I left his office with a massive life lesson and a 20% - YES TWENTY- percent raise.
3. Not setting limits and not receiving limits.
First, I must attribute my use of the word limits to Michael Tedesco. For ages, the word boundaries, for whatever reason, conjures images of walls – static, unchanging, rigid, and cold. Limits, however, feels flexible and contextual.
Here is the rub. After the person from above has walked on your carpet with muddy shoes, if you still do not ask them to take off their shoes, again you jeopardize intimacy and connection with them and, frankly, with yourself. Only bad feelings can emerge.
And I get it. We don’t set limits because some folks react to them and we want to avoid their reaction. But their reaction lets you know you have been heard, as Randi Buckley often says (she is the boundaries master and will be coming on the podcast soon).
Reacting to limits and even judging folks as unreasonable for setting limits is so disruptive to connection.
Magic wand wish? This whole “You are unreasonable for needing what you need and having the limits that you have” is the one thing I would swap for “We all get to have needs and limits and communicating them IS connection".
Am I good at setting limits in clear, kind ways?
Am I good at receiving limits in clear, kind ways?
What assumptions do I make about the other person in that whole giving and receiving limits process?
My hope is we can all do better at this connection stuff. That our hearts can stretch wide with love in these hard spaces and keep trying.
Judging someone is a real bugger.
Judgment prevents us from connecting as people. And it kinda makes us sick.
Not proudly, I judge people all the time. And I am not always aware when I am doing it. Sidewalk Talk and being married have both been my biggest teachers for being a better human.
A dear friend, Jamie McHugh, shared a quote with me,
“Judgement and anger are always a signpost of an unmet need.”
This quote reminds me of training I did with Marshall Rosenberg in 2005.
“Great so I have an unmet need, I am still mad and I’m judging and blaming the other person for it. What is your point, Traci?”
Let me tell you a story that will help this all come to life.
I see couples for therapy in the evening. Three nights I week I get home after ten pm and it is pitch black out and finding the door, getting the key in the lock...it is impossible if the porch light isn’t on. One week, my husband forgot to leave the porch light on for the third time. I was very snarky and judgemental when I got in the house. “He is so lazy.” “He is so selfish.”. “He is so ..fill in the blank.”
Because I love my partner, I am motivated to dig beneath the surface of my snark and I try to dialogue with the parts of me that are so upset rather than being a self-righteous jerk to him. “I am so sorry you are upset, Traci. What is the truest truth here? What most tender need didn’t get met by your husband that you can share tenderly with him rather than lambast him?”
To figure out what the heck is up with me I first need to close my eyes, feel the tension of the judgment and anger in my body and let my care and compassion for my hurt melt it a bit and then the real tender hurt part of me reveals itself.
My judgment and self-righteousness was a way I was trying so hard NOT to feel my vulnerability. A part of me felt forgotten and unimportant - an old wound indeed. (No wonder it was hotter than the situation called for.)
A few minutes later I got in touch with my need for nurturance and consideration. And whamo, I am free and open and available for a connected dialogue with my husband that has nothing to do with making up some judgemental story about my guy, nor using some “heady” 1, 2, 3 steps for better dialogue.
Heart-centered listening fixed my whole judgemental sassy stuff.
In my years of practicing this kind of heart-centered listening and dialogue it doesn’t always work out, though. My husband may still forget to leave the porch light on. Or, in some instances, other folks I have shared my tenderness with rebuke with pep talks to “get over it” or “go meditate” or “count to 4 and the feeling will shift” instructions. Some folks will not honor our tenderness and vulnerability, ever and that painful truth we can also be heart-centered with.
None of this is about getting the other person to change.
It is about us being heart-centered, even when the world around us cannot. That is why such simple acts of dialogue and connection are WAAAAY more than reflective listening. Reflective listening is a technique. Being heart-centered is a state. And it is a radical, life-altering, world-transforming state to walk around the world in.
Will you join me in using our own hearts to melt our judgments by getting clear what is really true in our most tender places inside?
From those tender places we can learn to be tender with all the different parts of ourselves and tender with all the different people in the world and do right by them. That is what we are practicing at Sidewalk Talk but you don’t have to come listen with us to practice. You can start right now, today.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.