As I watched the first presidential debate and the ensuing commentary, I began to analyze the human dynamic unfolding before me. What I saw was an exaggerated, dramatic, extreme example of what is part of our human nature and what I notice in particular with my divorcing clients.
Here it is in a nutshell: We see what we want to see, not necessarily what actually is. Just as we see whichever candidate we support as preforming better and telling the truth, we see our own reality as the accurate one in contrast to whomever we are disagreeing with. The higher the stakes, the more tunnel vision develops. Whether in politics or in a personal feud, our perception is often too black and white and not nuanced as the truth actually is.
In following the post-debate commentary, I noticed that depending upon who is reporting and who is viewing, even seemingly objective measures completely conflict based upon human perception, including fact checks and polls. Similarly, each divorcing client brings forth evidence of his/her perspective which is believed to be compelling and indisputable by that client and his/her supporters.
Let’s take this phenomenon a step further into the post-divorce world of dating and in fact, into the entire sphere of “looking for love.” Here as well, we see what we want to see during our initial dates and not necessarily what in fact exists. For example, when we are in the throes of physical attraction and our own needs and desires, we often dismiss our inner voice in favor of the reality that we wish to create, ultimately leading to disappointment when the truth reveals itself. This phenomenon often brings clients to coaching due to frustration with the dating experience.
So, what can each of us take home from this debate experience and its dramatic expression of human nature? Let’s each make an effort to be more conscious of our tendencies to see what we want to see when we are evaluating politics, relationships, or another person’s perspective. Let’s keep in mind that almost nothing is purely black or white, no matter how clearly we initially see it that way. Let’s check in with ourselves around our own “alternate reality” so that we can make wiser and more insightful choices in all aspects of our lives; political, personal, and professional. If we don’t become more conscious of our human tendencies to see only what we want to see, aren’t we really becoming more like the supporters of whichever presidential candidate we are criticizing?
During my Fox 5 interview on dating and relationships, when Liz Dahlem asked me directly on camera, “Do you HAVE to have the talk?” many of my clients’ experiences flashed before me to help me with my answer. During coaching sessions, this hot topic has been discussed repeatedly. “If we’ve been dating for a while, can’t I just assume that we are exclusive? We talk or text often, we go out almost every Saturday night, so that means it’s just the two of us, right?” Well, let’s explore that further…
If you are both at a point in your relationship that you are ready to be exclusive, what’s holding you back from having “the talk” to clearly define the commitment? How sure are you that you are ready to close off other possibilities? How confident are you that if you bring up exclusivity that he/she will be on the same page? If you are not feeling reasonably sure that he/she is up for the commitment, what would provide you with the perception that he/she is voluntarily exclusive without a conversation? Many clients have been disappointed to learn that while they were assuming exclusivity minus “the talk,” their partner had been engaging in other opportunities and may not have been viewing that exploration as cheating in any way.
Instead of dreading “the talk,” let’s celebrate it as a great tool to gage our true feelings as well as an opportunity to potentially start out a long term relationship with healthy communication. If we are hesitant about initiating “the talk” let’s gain clarity around the reason. If we feel ready for the talk, let’s have the courage to put it out there and find out undoubtedly what our agreed upon commitment level is.
In a nutshell, if “the talk” is not taking place, one or both of us has a reason that we are not articulating our level of commitment out loud to each other. If we are not ready to do so, we are not likely ready to be monogamous. So, let’s continue to evaluate the connection for a while longer, without any assumptions, until we feel better prepared for the all-important conversation. Yes ladies and gentlemen, in order to be absolutely sure that you are in an exclusive relationship, you really do HAVE to have “the talk.”
While engaged in conversation, we appropriately ask questions, and then we listen to the answers. The key issue is, when we listen, do we already have a predetermined hypothesis as to what the answer will be? Have we already formulated a guess, an assumption, or a judgement as to the reply that will come our way? As a result, have we prematurely tuned out of the listening process?
One of the most powerful lessons that experience has taught me in coaching my clients is that when I ask questions, I strive to consciously clear my mind of any expectation about what the answer might be. I have learned repeatedly, that in doing so, I consistently hear answers that I would not have imagined on my own. If I had predicted the answers, I would have clouded my understanding of what the client was trying to explain. As a result of my expectations not being injected, clients express themselves more freely, accurately, and effectively and this type of communication is extremely empowering to them.
The same is true in all of our day to day conversations, professionally and personally. Whether we are conversing with a brand new acquaintance or a long term friend, when we give the gift of that open space for listening to whatever the answer may be, we in turn give ourselves the gift of learning more than we ever could have if we had allowed our own expectations and forecasts to cloud the process.
If you try consciously injecting this method into your discussions, you are likely to find more engaged clients, more interested social contacts, and much newer, fresher, and richer information than would have been possible before. So begin learning and mastering this technique today, and watch your rapport and connection deepen and expand in a satisfying and transformative way.
Contact Heidi at Reinvention Life Coaching for one to one coaching to expand upon this and other communication skills or for a customized presentation for your group, board, or organization.