It was a difficult conversation with my husband, one of many on a theme that had followed us over the course of our 40-year marriage. I had made a statement that I thought reflected appreciation. However, he interpreted it as criticism and became upset. I could immediately see how the statement was misinterpreted and wanted to interrupt and tell him the real meaning and the mistake he'd made in thinking I meant something else.
But I caught myself and waited until he finished talking. At that moment it seemed more important for him to express himself and to let the emotional energy flow, to hear his strong feelings on the topic and witness his positive intention. It was a powerful moment. It was about respect and compassion, listening and learning.
Aikido: Martial Art and Metaphor
In Aikido, we have three entering movements: Irimi, Tenkan, Tenshin. One is a direct entry, one a pivot, and the last a step back. Each entry allows the Aikidoist to step offline and get out of the way of the incoming energy, at the same time connecting with it. We stay close to the opponent, engage the energy and redirect it toward a mutually satisfying outcome. (There's a new video on my homepage that demonstrates these principles in slow motion.)
Listening as Intervention
As I caught and stopped myself and chose to listen to my husband, I took a step offline and got out of the way. This metaphorical move allowed his energy to keep flowing. My mental shift from needing approval to listening as an ally defused the pent up steam. Feeling heard, he lightened and became more open, too.
As I acknowledged his words, I sensed him relaxing. I could see he was satisfied that I'd understood.
My turn. I clarified my statement and my positive intention and he heard me, because he was no longer in fight mode. An old pattern of conflict around this topic was transformed into a learning opportunity for both of us.
Arnold Mindell, author, Jungian analyst, and World Work facilitator, has said that conflict is the way in which we get to know each other and ourselves. Conflict becomes an unlikely teacher and unexpected gift. I was a grateful recipient that day.
If you have more than your share of difficult conversations, please join me on Feb. 25, for one of my most popular workshops on this topic,"We Have to Talk: A Step-by-Step Workshop for Holding Difficult Conversations Well."
Can't make the workshop? Check out my article and video on the subject: We Have to Talk: A Step-by-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations.