The Dance of a Connected Conversation

If communication is a dance, have you ever had the sense that you were talking with someone but:

  • Your toes were getting squashed under their heels.
  • Their posture was stiff and inflexible.
  • They were getting scandalously close to your wobbly bits? (Gasp!).
  • You just weren’t connected.

Dancers of many styles - silhouettesMaybe it was like the tango where there was a strong leader in the dance, around whom the dance seemed to turn and whirl? Maybe that was even you, once or twice 😉 Perhaps you were trying to assert yourself but the rapid, complex movements of the lead partner left it tricky to share your expression? You found yourself a little dizzy, being swept around the dance floor, lifted and spun, tracking the next move of the lead partner. (Note: its just a metaphor here, folks – tango can be beautiful, amazing, and full of both people’s expression.). The video below shows a disconnected dance duo stepping on each others feet video (for comparison & contrast with the following video).

Now compare the tango with a lead partner to “contact improvisation” dance. In this style, the partners are fully playing off of each other and there usually is no “lead partner”, although the dancers will be guiding and supporting each other at different times. Movements are fluid and intimate as bodies pass over, under and around each other. This style of dance is more of a metaphor for what we call “the flow of connection” in compassionate communication. This video demonstrates that fluidity.

Back and Forth

“The flow of connection” in a conversation has a focus on keeping both people connected to a conversation. This goes back and forth, using “connecting requests” that ask, “Could you tell me what you just heard so I can know I got my message across?” or “What comes up for you when you hear that?” To stay with the metaphor, those questions keep the dancers synced up, in step on the same dance floor. Another thing to remember is that people can stay more connected with each other if the person speaking talks in “paragraphs” rather than “chapters.” By breaking up the conversation into smaller chunks, it is easier to reflect back what is being shared. If you are listening, it can also be helpful to “interrupt,” to reflect back what that other person is sharing, initiating the flow of connection from the perspective of the “ear.” So even if the speaker knows nothing about compassionate communication and nonviolence, you as a listener can model that flow and keep yourself connected to the conversation.

Trip, Stumble and Get Impatient

Sometimes you might want to have connected conversations and other times, you might not have the energy for it. It does require an openness and detachment from outcomes – a willingness to fully leap into the conversation… in the dance. Sometimes you might want to just be the lead partner or just to follow the lead of another. Sometimes a txt msg is all u have time 4. AND as you practice (and fail) and practice (and fail some more), you will find yourself dancing in conversations with others in ways that used to be battles. Even if you are a seasoned practitioner of compassionate communication, also known as Nonviolent Communication™, watch and enjoy as your skills continue to improve and you spin into deeper connection. Are you wanting to strengthen your Nonviolent Communication practice for 4 days and nights in a beautiful retreat setting, with highly skilled trainers, a supportive community, incredible organic food and rustic natural settings? Learn more about our Blackbelt Communication Skills Retreat at Whidbey Institute, Oct 1-5, 2014.

Do I make a Difference? Shifting Anxiety to Choice

I woke up feeling vulnerable and anxious and decided to embrace and open to the sensations that were there. A flood of memories came back—years and years of teaching, conducting, parenting and the wondering if it had made any difference at all. “Are people’s lives any different? Are the horrors of the world diminished in any way by how I’ve lived?” I asked myself. “Was I so immersed in what I was doing morning to night thinking it was all so important and wasn’t able to see that all that effort didn’t mean much after all?”

 

Sinking into the sadness, some shame, disappointment, and hopelessness leads me below the turbulent waters where I notice the yearning to live a life that has meaning, that contributes to others, that makes a difference because I show up with love. I want to risk my significance based on a full-bodied sense of integrity and authenticity, not reacting to external expectations.

 

Allowing my body and heart to sink into that hunger, to give my full weight to it in the present moment, I notice another fear at the thought that some beloved people in my life may not understand or support my choices. A wave of sadness come over me thinking the consequences may be that I fall from grace or lose being held with positive regard by those I care about.

 

Breathing into the fear of loss, I relax into how much I care, how much I love others and want to deepen sacred connection. I feel relief knowing that I can choose to offer unconditional positive regard to others, no matter how they respond to me. I can create the qualities I cherish. Can I offer that acceptance and care to myself as I step more and more into my own authenticity? I’m willing to try.  Hearing my own “yes!” connects me with the flow of Life moving through me and the power of being connected to meaning and purpose. I don’t know how to answer the question “Do I make a difference?” but I do trust that living each moment with a willingness to risk my significance for the sake  of connection and love may help me live my way into the answer.

How To Tune Yourself Into Gratitude

I was thinking about how gratitude is a door we open to Life’s energies. We only need to open the door a little. Frankly, that’s all the energy I have most of the time. Thinking I’m responsible for creating and holding this huge dream of peace on the planet is overwhelming for me. I can, however, crawl to the doorknob and push the door open just a crack.

happy girl with deely bobbersThrough that crack comes a wide range of energies that ebb and flow. You could think of them as radio stations that we tune ourselves to. We can label those radio stations as universal needs. Examples of these needs could include the need for respect, safety, clarity, or understanding. They are energies of life moving through me and through all people. When I say a thankful yes to dancing with any and all of those energies, it allows me to live in the flow of life more directly and opens me to a spontaneous experience of gratitude and joy.

Sometimes we push one of those specific radio preset button voluntarily.
When you share a joke or funny story, you could be dialing yourself into Joy.  If you follow through on something you said you would do, you could dial yourself into integrity.

Other times, you seem to just land there. “Welcome! You’ve just tuned into Need for Belonging Radio, along with the rest of our listeners.”

It is different than focusing on what I might call “positive” and pushing away what I might consider “negative.” I embrace my experience in its wholeness, feeling the fullness of all feelings and present to the underlying needs When I am tuned into one of those radio stations that is uncomfortable, I match my dance to the music on that station. When I’m connected in that way, accepting what is present, I sense a vitality and authenticity that brings me to life. Just that presence is enough to lead me to gratitude.

This practice is so powerful and can have a great effect on your own daily living. It tends to be noticed by people around you, whether they are new faces in the line at the grocery store or your closest friends and family. Gratitude is one of the best ways I know to connect with our children. Sharing your gratefulness with them gives them a sense of really being seen for their beauty. It’s a splendid way for them to become aware of the power they have to make life wonderful for themselves and others while experiencing how good it feels to use that power.

Self Gratitude Exercise

  1. Pause 2X daily spontaneously or during planned times.
  2. Connect with Life reaching out through you now.
  3. Notice ways you are living, savoring, embodying, and sharing the things you most value.
  4. Give yourself gratitude for whatever is alive. This could be just stopping to notice and savor a way you are living out your values and your awareness of this process.
  5. Celebrate that you had the power to give to yourself or someone in a way that was nurturing whether or not it was acknowledged.

Notice what thoughts and feelings come up for you when you start to give yourself gratitude. Is it easy or hard? Are you nervous or relaxed?

 

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3 Steps To Free Ourselves From Our Inner Prisons

bird-flying-from-cageThough I frequently walk in and out of WA State prisons, I find myself trapped in my internal prison much more often than I enjoy. It’s one I carry around with me and enter easily. Getting out can be an arduous process. The prison is my mind, specifically the part that spins stories about what other people are thinking, doing, intending or reacting to. I am amazed how frequently my brain can come up with a story and how often a story when checked out, can be way off base.

I find I am not alone. Conversations I hear daily are couched in language that implies wrongness or diagnosis of others. When our stories are about others, we usually feel anger. When our stories are about ourselves, the feelings of shame, guilt and depression arise.

The last time I was in the women’s prison I found myself on the receiving end of the stories. It was a very stressful weekend for the inmates. Mother’s Day events were being held. Try to imagine the stress of parenting from prison or the pain of not having contact with your children anymore. A higher number of fights than normal were breaking out, and most of the women who were trying to focus in the Freedom Project workshop I was co-leading were bundles of nerves.

At one point on the second day, one of the women told me I was disrespectful, then another said I was being condescending, yet another one agreed and added I was just like one of “them” (the officers). They were sure their stories about me were true. Their evaluations were clearly facts in their eyes. I listened with empathy and was trying to find out what they had seen or heard from me that they interpreted as disrespect or lack of caring.

I had asked two women to join me out into the hall first thing in the morning, to create safety, when I thought a fight was about to break out. I mediated between them for 45 minutes and the two women involved were thankful for the reconnection and learning. Some of the women who remained in the room, however, assumed I was somehow punishing the women I had asked out into the hall. It took empathy from my colleague and individual empathy from me with the angry participants during the following break to finally have my intentions for support, caring and learning seen by the women. We ended in a place of connection. The remaining hours of the workshop were spent giving empathy to the women for their pain and talking about the self-empathy that allowed me to stay present to myself in a way that let me hear their pain and not take their judgments personally. Judgments are simply tragic expressions of needs. 

I spent the next couple of weeks noticing when I didn’t stop to pause between something that triggered me (what someone said or did) and my story about it. Some of my stories are well rehearsed as I’ve practiced them for years. My belief in my stories can be as strong as the inmates’ belief in their stories about what they thought was going on in me. The freedom from the internal prison happens in that pause between observation and evaluation. I work through 3 steps that spring me loose.

  1. I find a way to notice what I’m reacting to the specific observation of what someone actually said or did.
  2. I pause long enough to look under my story (the evaluation) to my feelings and needs.
  3. I let a request naturally arise in relation to the needs I’m aware of.

That pause is a place of choice and power. Separating observation from evaluation is a crucial first step to freedom. I find myself making that inner journey time and time again from my prison to liberation. It’s starting to get easier the more I do it. It requires compassion for myself along the way and trust that continuing on that path will lead to greater joy, clarity and connection.

Kathleen Macferran, Certified Trainer
Strength of Connection Center for Nonviolent Communication
Office: 472 Grow Ave NW | Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
206.780.1021. Tel / Fax
Mail: PO Box 10009 | Bainbridge Island, WA 98110-0009