“When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me. I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privilege of a puny group I shall shout for the rights of all mankind” - Pauli Murray
With bated breath I watched with the rest of the world as the US elected their 46th president. Though this is not my country the divisiveness that has been on display mirrors (if not magnifies) the divisive tendencies we all experience, in our countries, our relationships, & in ourselves. In his victory speech, Biden said “Now let’s give each other a chance… it’s time to see each other again, listen to each other again…” A sentiment I believe we all can benefit from.
Regardless of your political stance many of us recognize that the rhetoric we see on TV & in the media is polarized. At times it may even feel as though we have lost our sense of shared humanity & the capacity for civil disagreement. Yet this path is not gone, it is one that we create in our actions every single day.
People carry a capacity for growth, care, & understanding & at our core we desire the same things - to be safe, to be seen, to be understood, to be accepted, & to be loved. When we view each other through a lens of shared humanity we have the power build bridges & accomplish great feats. This path of connection is humble. It begins in the relationships we have at home & in our communities. These seemingly inconsequential conversations & interactions reinforce a fabric of society built on trust, respect, & genuine care.
The greatest gift we have in building such bridges is in our presence & willingness to reflect & engage. Below I outline 8 tips for cultivating connection in our communication & reflect on those tendencies which may lead us further apart.
1) Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Our actions are influenced by our beliefs. As Henry Ford said’ Whether you think you can or you can’t you’re right”. These prophecies greatly impact the way we treat others & how we are treated in return.
When we reinforce a narrative that someone doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, or is too stupid to understand we are likely to approach them in a way that fulfills this projection. If I believe you never listen to me I am more likely to speak to you in a way that’s cold, forceful, or needy. All of these approaches make it it less likely you will listen & more likely you will act as I believe you will. By shifting our awareness into a place of possibility & mutual respect (i.e. I believe we both want respect & understanding) we become more open & receptive. It is now more likely that we will listen & that they will do the same.
2) Listen Instead of Assume
When our time ‘listening’ is spent formulating our response to what we ‘think’ someone is saying instead of actually paying attention we miss the mark. To truly engage another in conversation it's imperative that we listen with a genuine desire to understand their perspective. This doesn’t mean we necessarily agree but that we are willing to learn & offer our respect.
Active listening can be very helpful. We can actively listen by paraphrasing key points (i.e. What I hear is ___________ is that what you mean?), asking clarifying questions (What do you mean by ________?), & giving the speaker space to add & refine their ideas (Is there anything else you want to add?). When we listen in this way we build a sense of rapport, gain insight, & invite the reciprocity of being listened to ourselves.
3) Avoid Exaggeration & Seek Clarification
Exaggeration is a tool we have used since we first shared stories around the fire. We exaggerate information to elicit emotional responses, inspire others, or get people on our side. However, when it comes to communication these embellishments can create further division. Whether its fighting a straw man argument to make our position look stronger, dramatizing someone's behaviour into absolutes or (they always, never…) lumping people into generalized groups (i.e. All conservative are…) exaggeration devalues the nuances that exist in people & situations.
Growth happens in the complexities. By inquiring more deeply about motivations, values, & perceptions we can begin to understand each other’s true needs & work collaboratively to find effective solutions.
4) Turn Self Aggrandizing into Self Reflection
As humans we have a natural tendency to see ourselves& our point of view as correct & the opposing side as in the wrong, - particularly in arenas where we feel personally affected. This may show up as victim mentality (“they did this to me”, “It’s their fault”) or seeing ourselves as the necessary saviour (“I have to ____ because they can’t”). Within these self aggrandizing persona’s we tend to blame others or justify our actions based on our assumptions about someone else.
Yet, underneath these defences often lurks very personal beliefs & feelings that we are avoiding. By making it about the other person(s) we can repress our own discomfort & ignore our personal contribution to the tension or conflict. However, when we face ourselves, our feelings, our judgements, & our responsibilities we become empowered in self awareness to choose & behave differently. As we embark on these changes we build self esteem, confidence, & greater capacity for genuine connection.
How do I feel?
What judgements about the other do I have?
How do I treat this person when I judge them in this way?
Is there anything in my behaviour that may be contributing to this division?
As you consider these questions be mindful if those qualities of martyrdom or victimhood creep in. i.e. “Well I’m always so kind to them & they know it so they know they can walk all over me” is very different & less helpful then “I take on a lot of their problems without them asking & I don’t let them figure it out on their own”. Be gentle with yourself, these shifts in perception take time.
5) Engage in Opposition
When we are insecure in our thinking, lack the knowledge to truly understand a situation, or commit our identity to a belief it's common to avoid anything that disrupts the idea we have in our mind. Confirmation bias leads us to believe that any information that supports our view is right & anything that contributes to the opposing view is likely faulty. Instead of engaging with the other side we avoid it, we judge it as simple or irrational, & instead focus on our view & why we are right.
When we take the time to actively try & understand, even argue for an opposing view we are more likely to uncover our own biases & assumptions. This does not necessarily mean we will change our mind but we will become more aware of the complexities that exist & begin to more clearly understand of the other side.
6) Steady Yourself (it might not be yours to fix)
Sometimes we hit a relationship or situation that feels dire - it’s hard, uncomfortable, & we want to fix it NOW. This can happen for a number of reasons, a loved one is upset with us (or vice versa), we are in a conflict at work, or we feel the pressure of society to help make 'them' (insert your 'them' here) understand our point of view.
When we find ourselves obsessed with another person, their position, or way of being it is essential to come back to ourself - this is the only person we can be fully responsible for. When we engage from a steady place in ourselves it allows us to communicate as we need & leave that which is not ours to fix.
7) Be a Builder
At times, all we seem to see is what's wrong with a person or situation. Even when our observations are fair (i.e. a colleague doesn’t meet their deadlines) the way we approach the situation is crucial as it can either build connection or create division. If we focus solely on what’s wrong we may elicit defensiveness instead of understanding.
Instead, of focusing on what’s wrong we can choose to focus on what we want to build. What is the deeper reason this issue matters to you? What values do you wish to build & how can you approach the situation in a way that respects these values for everyone involved? For example, you may desire cooperation & respect for the whole team. When this intention is at the forefront you are more likely to approach your colleague with respect, be open to their perspective, & increase the likelihood for cooperation & mutual understanding. It does not guarantee that you will be heard but it does make mutual understanding more likely.
Acceptance underscores all previous tips. At it’s foundation it’s about getting out of our own way - away from the narratives we create & the idealizations of how we believe the situation or another person ‘should’ be. These projections create more tension then resolution. When we are caught on how things ‘should’ be we become unable to meet the needs of the moment as they are.
Acceptance may require more layers then we realize. We may need to accept the facts, admit & accept our emotions, judgements, & at times accept that the situation is difficult or even that there is nothing to be done at this time. We may need to accept a person for who & how they are instead of trying to mold them into who we think they should be. And, we may need to accept ourself for both our strengths & our limitations. To some it may seem that acceptance is giving up, but in reality acceptance allows us to forge ahead, to let go of our agenda & see the possibilities that exist where we are.
About the Author Amy Thiessen is a coach, writer, & musician who focuses on helping others find & express a their voice with resonance. Her unique approach works with the wholistic mechanism of voice utilizing somatic awareness, psychology, mindfulness, spiritual practice, & vocal techniques of toning & song.
Learning how to recognize our blind spots - those divisive patters that prevent us form intimacy o&r understanding can be difficult. If you would like support in cultivating more effective communication I invite you to book a free 20 minute consult & we can discuss is ‘In Resonance’ Coaching is right for you.