I had a delightful conversation with a client yesterday.
She was saying how difficult it is for her to remain present with someone who talks at her.
This morning, I realized that she may have been referring to me.
A couple of years ago, I was sharing a story with my sweetheart. With self-satisfaction thrusting me forward, I launched into it.
It was a good story. It was funny, mildly ironic, and it had a hook.
Just as I was building a head of steam, she said something—a full sentence.
I didn’t hear exactly what she said, but it was internally interpreted as the command:
DANGER < ABORT < SYSTEM FAILURE < RESET
I terminated the story. She saw, sensed and felt the carnage and then tried to salvage something from the wreckage by apologizing for her interruption.
She said she was sorry and that she was just trying to engage with me.
If she really wanted to hear the story, she would have just listened and not interrupted; my ego’s diagnostic array flashed before it shorted out and died a smoky, foul-smelling death.
After she apologized and my system reset, I let her know it wasn’t about her. I had stopped talking because I have issues. I was triggered and chose to sulk.
I created an internal story about her interruption and elected to value her interjection as a rejection.
I took responsibility for my reaction. She still felt bad.
Over the next ten minutes, I realized why her way of engaging was vexing. I wasn’t trying to engage with her.
I was telling the story to hear myself talk and I projected I would enjoy it more if I had an audience.
She was interrupting me talking to myself.
She was grabbing my arm as I was trying to pat myself on the back for how funny and clever I find myself.
She was coming between me and my inflated ego.
That became a pivotal moment in my development and in our relationship. Shifting from soliloquy to dialogue has taken me a while longer. I begin to feel when my discourse is off course, and then I stop, regroup and reconnect, before I continue.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. ~ Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)
Shakespeare was a master at soliloquy, the talking to oneself in a dramatic fashion, but I haven’t ever read anything that says how proficient he was at the empathetic communion necessary for interpersonal communications.
I realized I needed to be in a neutral space to commune with others.
If I was projecting, it was a soliloquy, a rapturous monologue where I didn’t care whether anyone was listening, interested or offended.
I lacked empathy. I was selfish and domineering.
It was also a way I kept a comfortable buffer between my audience and me. I used monologue to maintain a preset emotional distance from others. I used a handful of words to keep intimacy at arms length.
Empathetic Communion: Compassionate communication without the need for dominance or distance. The fearless exchange of information with the intention to create a shared experience.
Engaging in conversation requires that I maintain the practice of empathetic communion.
It is a practice that I intend to continue to practice.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Brenna Fischer / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo Credit: ashraful kadir/Flickr Creative Commons