Take a moment and think about the conversations in your life.
When was the last time you had a challenging conversation?
How did the conversation go?
Focus in on how you listened. When we are in conversations with others, we often hear what they are saying, but we do not actually listen. We are not actively receiving and interacting with what they’re speaking about, we’re doing something else. Where was your mind in that conversation? How were you listening?
Let’s break this down.
How we usually show up in conversations, how we listen, has many elements. In fact, we don’t actually listen, we P.R.E.A.C.H.
This is the driving force behind many of our tough conversations. It makes a conflict go from bad to worse, or makes what could have been a five-minute resolution turn into an hour-long argument. So, let’s take a look at P.R.E.A.C.H. and the themes it represents:
Before I describe these different themes, read those descriptions again, and see if any resonate with you.
How often do we meet others ready to analyze the way they did something and tell them how we believe it should’ve been done? We are usually right, after all. We know what’s best, and we definitely know whether something is good or right or wrong. Are you someone who hears something and reacts without taking time to reflect on what was actually being said? At some level, these are things we all do. It’s how we learned to be in conversation with each other.
Sometimes it happens unconsciously, without us realizing that we’re doing it. And at one point in our lives, a lot of these things were helpful for our survival and coping.
But just because it’s what we know and what we’re used to, that doesn’t mean that it’s working.
Let’s dive a little deeper.
What is projection?
When you go to a movie theater and watch colors and lights on the big screen, you know you’re watching a projection. Projection in our daily lives works similarly, but the projection is our own creation, from our own minds, and most of the time we don’t know it’s a projection.
We all have ideas, preferences, hurts, and needs that sometimes go unspoken. Additionally, everything that we see, hear, and experience is filtered through our personal perspectives before we encode and store that information in our brains.
You can imagine that all these things—our beliefs, our preferences, our worldviews, and even our hurt and unspoken needs—get projected onto our reality or the people we’re having conversations with, just like the projector displays an image on a screen.
Projection can incorporate all of the elements of P.R.E.A.C.H., putting you at the center of how you’re relating to the entire conversation. If you can clarify what you’re projecting onto that conversation or person, like your anger, hunger, fear, boundaries, or stories, you can then begin to separate and understand the feelings of the person you’re in conversation with. You will be interacting with present reality.
Reaction is pretty straightforward.
It’s our initial response to stimuli, our response to something before we even think about it.
In conversation, when you think someone is attacking you, saying something you think is wrong, saying something you’re taking personally, or when you’re uncomfortable or hurt by what’s being said, your reaction is the immediate physical, verbal, and emotional response. Can you think of times you’ve reacted to something in the past?
Next, we have evaluation.
Another word for evaluation is judgment. This is when we assess the quality or value of something and make a judgment of it, like right or wrong, good or bad, mean, kind, truthful, or perfect.
Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication even elaborates on evaluation to mean any language that is being used to describe something beyond objectively naming facts. For example, saying to yourself, “I shouldn’t ask—it’s a stupid question,” or saying to someone else, “There’s something wrong with you.”
Instead, when we’re not making evaluations and we are simply observing, we can see the situation clearly: “It’s a stupid question,” versus “It’s a question I would like to ask.” Or, “There’s something wrong with you,” versus “I don’t agree with what you did.”
In his book, Rosenberg writes:
“The first component of NVC entails the separation of observation from evaluation. When we combine observation with evaluation, others are apt to hear criticism and resist what we are saying. NVC is a process language that discourages static generalizations. Instead, observations are to be made specific to time and context, for example, ‘Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games,’ rather than, ‘Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.’”
Next up, analysis.
Analysis is like evaluation, but instead of making an assertion or judgment of the value of something, this has much more to do with the way you assess how someone is saying or doing something.
So, you might correct someone if you think they’re using the wrong words. You might think about the many ways that what they are saying is wrong and you are right because you know best.
Analysis has to do with taking apart all the pieces of what someone is saying to you to the degree that you miss the actual communication happening. You may get so caught up in what you believe are the correct details that you aren’t able to understand this person’s experience and allow the conversation to move forward because you’re not actually hearing or listening to the other person’s sharing. You are interacting with what you think should have been said and not what’s actually there.
Next is criticism.
Criticism takes analysis and evaluation one step further and brings them into the world of right and wrong. Criticism is both in the way you listen to someone and how you respond to them.
The dictionary definition of criticism is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. So, in your perspective, you see faults, or mistakes, or something wrong, either with the person speaking or what is being said, and then your response is to speak to that disapproval right away.
Sometimes, when you feel criticized, you may lash out and act critically to others to protect those hurt parts of yourself. When have you felt criticized and how did you respond? Have you ever been critical as a response to feeling hurt?
Lastly, let’s take a look at history.
History is a simple way of saying, “bringing in the past.” Some people have the tendency to harbor resentment. I’m raising my hand on this one—it’s something I can definitely relate to.
Something happens and you feel hurt, but you stay quiet. It’s easier, safer, and more comfortable not to talk about something. After all, you don’t want to cause any more conflict. You don’t want to hurt them, so you quietly hold onto it. You’re used to taking care of things yourself, and you’ve always been self-sufficient, so in this case, you act like everything’s fine and figure you’ll just “get over it.”
But gosh, doesn’t it still hurt?
So, fast forward…now tension is rising again, and you’re in a challenging conversation. All the feelings are boiling up, and then, there it is—this is just like the last time you got hurt. You’re then responding from that past hurt, or you bring up that past incident, even though it is a distinctly different conflict than what’s going on presently. Suddenly, history is being rewritten, and in the same way, because it’s getting blended with the present.
So, there it is. A close look at the way P.R.E.A.C.H.ing defines our conversations and actually blocks us from that healing, present, full-body-heart-and-soul listening that transforms conversations.
Now, I have a challenge for you. Continue to focus on the elements of P.R.E.A.C.H. Notice the way they show up in your daily life and in your conversations, and just catch yourself. If you notice yourself reacting, consciously take a moment to pause. If you catch yourself making a judgment or evaluation, pause. Take a breath. Notice where you are and come back to the conversation. Continue to practice being present in the conversation.
The Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu says this about listening:
“The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.”
Let’s transform the world, one conversation at a time!