In our experience as listeners, we each have many stories of what it is like to extend respect up front. Instead of waiting to see if someone measures up before we offer respect, we sit and listen to anyone who needs a listening ear and compassionate heart. And the impact on the one we listen to, the individual we respect as they are in the moment, is strikingly different from exchanges where guardedness and suspicion govern interactions.
One of the repeated experiences we have had as nonjudgmental listeners, has been of the innate level of decency and care and respect directly witnessed in everyone. For the most part it is true for me that when I have offered to listen without vetting, people respond to the offer of being heard with a reciprocal and immediate respect. Immediate – like they don’t even have to think about it or try.
I recall one guest in particular, so soft spoken and kind as he shared of his experiences on his regular visits to the LP, that even when he would tell me of the times he’d been forcefully removed by the police and the courts mandated that he attend anger management class, I found it hard to believe he could ever offend anyone. He had so consistently been kind and decent and wonderfully just human at the LP. It boggled my mind that he had it so rough outside the LP walls.
That is the power of respect. Being respected brings out the best in us – it brings out our natural respect, our innate self-respect.
We have been exploring ‘difficult conversations,’ and since our exploration has begun it amazes me how many opportunities for practice I have been presented with! Recently my husband and I were faced with a difficult individual, someone we had to address professionally and dreaded it because of a long history of challenging behavior from this person. After a sigh of apprehension, we decided to let go of history and just speak.
That moment of letting go of history was our own way of facing the challenges described in “Difficult Conversations,” the book we referred to for our retreat on the topic. The challenges are: the situation is more complex than either person can see; the situation is emotionally charged; the situation challenges our identity. And ‘letting go,’ the ground of deep listening itself, is how my husband and I faced our own assumptions about the man we needed to communicate with.
I know there are times I don’t have it in me to ‘let go,’ times when I can’t bear to face my emotional assumptions, or times that my desire to be right, and recognized as so, overwhelms my otherwise loving heart. And I’m sure there are moments when deep listening isn’t enough. Still… time after time, when listening is remembered and practiced, the result is mutual respect. The result is what I have heard Marcia call ‘easy love.’
Surprise is often the fallout of listening. We chose to text the person we needed to speak with – strategically giving ourselves the best chance at staying true to our desire to drop the jammed up history and respectfully relay a message. And, surprise! He responded to our text with natural dignity and respect. He even offered to help us with the task that we had feared telling him we were up against.
Sometimes deep listening is enough to free the prince within.
Avie and Marcia
p.s. below is the chart from “Difficult Conversations,” by Stone, Patton, and Heen