Practicing How to Hear The Need Behind the Message
I’d been working on some class materials and I wanted to show off. I know, I know. But I’d just finished the best flyer of my life. I knew it would be a magnet for interesting people. So, I took the flyer with me to book club.
I’ve been going to book club for 12 years! I KNOW this audience very well, so I expected praise and gasps of surprise at how brilliantly I wrote. Or more accurately, I expected to hear how brilliant I was.
The first response? “You’ll probably be rejected, so be careful because you take things personally.” WTF?!
What did I do? Reaching way back and rummaging in my Trunk of Important Tools, I respond with–say it with me–taking it personally.
I spent days brooding on this and what it meant. Just a few remarks and I’m sure they no longer love me and don’t want to be my friends. My interior dialogue goes on to add that they probably never did love me. In fact, no one has ever loved me. Or ever will.
Arriving at these inflated and obviously untrue statements is my own personal red flag. I really do feel those feelings. And, while it’s intriguing to follow the psychological threads back to their origins in the mist of time, I don’t have to.
But I did.
After a week of horrible self-talk, I got an “Ah ha!” and remembered that what people say is usually a desperate attempt to meet their own needs.
What a relief! It isn’t me being a horrible person who takes things personally. We’re ALL walking around trying to get our needs met with whatever grace we can muster.
So, if you’ve had a hard to hear message recently, you can try this formula along with me:
4 Options for Hearing a Difficult Message
- Blame Ourselves
- Blame Others
- Sense our own feelings and needs
- Sense others’ feelings and needs
Difficult Message: You take things personally!
My initial response was to unconsciously throw out everything I know about compassionate communication. Then, I applied a blend of blaming self and blaming others. I immediately began questioning every interaction I’d had with any of the members. Did I imagine their love and friendship from the beginning? Did they ever like me? And, finally, “Why don’t they like me?”
So, what were my own feelings?
- In the moment, I wanted recognition for my efforts.
- Outrage. Wow–I take things personally? Doesn’t everybody? Is there a different way to take things? (note: this is an effort to move toward blaming others)
- Appalled. Oh my god–what I have feared has come to pass. These people have only been pretending to like me to get by, while all along they’ve talked about me and decided that I take things personally.
- Disappointment – If they did love me and had always loved me, they picked a strange way to show their love.
- Exasperation – come on! this is some of the best work I’ve ever done. You look at it and the first thing that pops into your head is “You take things personally?”
What needs might have been at the root of these feelings?
What needs did I have in the moment?
- safety and protection
- safe haven
What might the speaker have been feeling or needing?
- They might have been coming from wanting to protect me.
- Sounds like they had some concerns about how I’d handle the class.
- Needed to give me some advice about how to do it.
Now that I’ve gotten in touch with their needs instead of their words, I begin to feel a connection and experience emotional relief. But when I stay with how I’m feeling and what I’m needing, I miss the healing that occurs when we acknowledge each other’s needs. And that everyone’s needs matter.
I do feel real disappointment in their initial response. However, I am also mourning the lost opportunity to find out what was up with the speakers. It would have been fascinating to hear what was really going on with them.
But, I’m meeting myself with compassion about that. Maybe next time it won’t take a week to remember the tools in my Tool Box. Or that I even have a Tool Box.
How do you react to hard to hear messages?