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He sits up and shifts his torso right to the left before settling on a straight and confident posture.
“Normally, the restaurant is closed for lunch, but they are opening especially just for us,” he states with a tone of accomplishment and a smile before turning his attention back to the camera. He moves up close to the camera so that I can now only see from his eyeballs upward. “How was that?” he asks.
I am with a student practicing some specifically requested language for a business meeting. With tutoring English as a second language as part of my repertoire now, it is typical for me to rehearse such things as interviews and appropriate language at work with people from around the world.
In addition, people request to work on their pronunciation because they want to sound “more natural” and they desire to be able to talk about their feelings more easily, sometimes specifically to suit a personal relationship and many of them want to make sure whatever they said is “right.”
Across the board, one thing is for sure: everyone wants to feel heard. More specifically, they want to feel understood.
I’ve only recently come to understand the role this plays in my own life. I can still feel how the sliding door was a little sluggish when I tried to slam it after delivering the silent treatment to a lover whom I felt was not appropriately reading my cues or my mind. As it turns out, not saying anything and slamming doors aren’t the key to handling our emotions nor a guaranteed gateway to being understood. Even less so when they move like they are going through quicksand and don’t actually slam.
The difference is after that instance, I felt that there was something deeper to my reaction. I didn’t feel it was justified, but I recognized that something was missing, and what that was, was my feeling heard and receiving a better reaction to it. It doesn’t matter what language we speak, people can only hear us from their personal point of consciousness at that time. Disappointingly, this sometimes means we are not heard or understood in the way we had hoped so. It doesn’t matter who my student is talking to. If the other party is not operating from the same level of belief that the restaurant’s being open for lunch is special, they aren’t going to hear it in the way he intends.
Is there a way we can let go of how people do or do not interpret our intentions? I think there are some things we can consider.
1. What do we really mean?
It might require peeling back some layers, but we can be honest with ourselves about whether or not we are communicating what we intend to.
If I felt angry, staying silent until I exploded wasn’t how I really wanted to communicate that. It was an unfamiliar territory for me to say, in a more transparent way, that I felt unseen and unheard. Somewhere along the line, I learned that instead of vulnerability, exploding is a better option.
But what do we really have to lose by getting underneath all of that emotion and conveying what we actually mean? We might just end up feeling heard.
2. How would we want to hear it?
If someone were to share with us the exact same thing we are trying to express, what would speak to us? For me, it would 100 percent not be slamming a sliding door. I would want to hear, in an honest way, the feelings that are underneath all the surface patterns, habits, and expectations of the other person.
Likewise, if we are excited or happy about something and want to share it, how would we receive the excitement from another person?
3. Can we release the idea of what we think the response to this should be?
I recall one time opening my messages to a series of question marks. The message reads, “???”. I had to do a double take before I realized that the person expected an answer to the message that came before that, but I hadn’t read said message yet. “That’s interesting,” I thought before immediately shoving it out of my mind and moving on with my day.
Demanding how we expect the other party to respond to us is, at best, ineffective and, at least, alienating. What is useful to us, in addition to being aware of our own feelings and how we communicate them, is to understand that everyone is truly operating from their point of consciousness at that time.
Even if they do something we feel they should know better than doing, regardless of how big or small that is, everyone is doing their best, and sometimes, that thing can be shocking, upsetting, or, my personal favorite, mind-blowing to us.
To put our own egos in check for a moment, sometimes we could easily be on the other end of this disbelief as well.
Lovers’ quarrels, business meetings, interactions at the supermarket, and anything in between—large or small—this desire to be heard and then understood is always at play. Operating from a position of total awareness, unfortunately, is not.
Personally, I have been putting deliberate action toward opening up more, peeling back layers, and trying to understand what is behind a message consisting entirely of impatient question marks, whenever I do receive one.
It’s nice when the restaurant opens its doors especially for us. It’s also nice when we leave the sliding door open to let in the understanding of how we feel heard and to let out the expectations of what that should look like.
It was a sluggish and inconvenient means of delivering the message, anyway.