June 3, 2014

The Uncomfortable Listener (& Former Problem-Solver). ~ Jeff Sanders

https://www.flickr.com/photos/the-inhabitant/5806482760/in/photolist-9R6K2J-cxedwN-ee8Phj-b42D1-M9Ptv-h5Xbwq-9AZJp-6eaHAh-5zXrTX-99MfGn-7GTJzz-mfvsBi-buAYXT-7MSTBJ-4r82eY-b5k6PV-djzf3R-diRMVL-4kb622-dV2wNZ-7xVMgC-7tda3W-d5iuHo-ahwJfM-7yXPYm-azUGsc-4AG6nF-eXU5wr-eevrqB-3iEeZ2-5H2MR7-7XNBoz-4GvCKx-4ori1V-cDnL1E-dRwED3-3Y4JB8-azgij3-5VzpU2-fobsgh-bVuXbv-j2Sirj-fAbaw3-7XHCYz-e6M7kY-4waFtM-d3oztd-8jaQeu-6bNEwf-6vQEwqHi, my name is Jeff and I am a problem solver. If you have a question, concern, issue or dilemma, I have an answer—or will find one.

It is one of the things that supported my success in business. I could find solutions and develop systems to ensure safety, stability and efficiency. I am extremely good at it.

During the evolutionary process of writing a book, I fundamentally changed my perception of problem solving, how I communicate, why I communicate and my primary motive for communication.

I realized that as a problem solver I was looking to affirm, maintain or encourage my own safety, to ensure a continued zone of comfort. Problem solving kept me in my happy place.

I spoke to convince people or things to change into something that I was more comfortable with, to alter or change to something to keep it within my existing value and belief systems.

I talked because I was fearful of the future. If I could assist the people around me to be comfortable and safe THEN I could be comfortable and safe. I was habitually determining my safety based upon my perception and interpretation of my environment and those in it and my projections about what might happen at some point in the future.

When I judged “now” as less than safe, I would try to fix it. To appease my fears, I would make an effort to control, manipulate and seduce circumstances. Those efforts were the solutions I offered, the advice I gave and the options I highlighted.

If my partner, children, friends, associates, or employees were less than my vision of perfect (non-threatening), I would look to “help them” into being safer” so that I would feel safer.

I had convinced myself I was trying to help; that I wanted only what was best for them, that I was being logical or highlighting options. I was problem solving!

I complimented myself for being overtly sympathetic and delightfully empathetic.

But now, I am feeling like I was … just being epically pathetic and disgustingly emetic.

(Emetic: to cause nausea or vomiting)

This realization led me to seek silence, to become a listener. I started with my partner and daughters, as they are the people I talk to (and try to regulate) the most. Years ago, I would spend hours talking to my younger daughter, trying to convince her to think and act in a way that I assured her would be “better” but in reality, it just felt safer for me. It was extremely ineffective.

In my new role as “the listener,” I would listen, affirm what they were saying, track the discomfort associated with my fears, and watch for the urges to direct, redirect, convince or coerce them into thinking, feeling and acting differently (in some way that was acceptable and comfortable for me).

I gradually got better at it.

Initially, it was “@#$%, I did it again” some time after the conversation ended.

Then, it was “@#$%, I’m doing it again” during the conversation.

And finally, “Success! I stopped myself from doing it.”

Now, it is unusual to succumb to the urge. It is easier to listen because I am allowing my safety to be determined internally.

When I realized I was seeking my safety externally, I began to evaluate my actual safety. The overwhelming majority of the time, I am safe regardless of what happens around me. Moreover, if I am safe, I can stop spending energy trying to control something that doesn’t need to be controlled.

If I am not depleting myself, my actual safety increases.

I finally gleaned that my safety was not externally determined.

Glean: To gather by degrees, to accumulate with patient and minute labor; to pick out; to obtain, to make a collection. (Fun fact: a glean of herrings is 25, as decreed by Edward I in the 13th Century.)

The by-product and the biggest benefit I have gained from this practice is my acceptance of those around me, who they are, where they are and how they are. I am able to be more intimate and present because I am not generating future scenarios and the possible solutions to some fictional future.

Recognizing my internal safety as they navigate their lives allows me to love people more fully without trying to make them better. 

But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely cured. If they ask for my opinion … or want a problem solved, I am still their guy.

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Apprentice Editor: Jen Weddle / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Flickr/Richard Baxter

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