Tag Archives: communication

Perception, Reality, Empathy

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I had a meeting with an administrator at school the other day. She said, “Perception is reality,” when we were speaking about my son and his experiences of late. She followed that up with, “which means to me that we have to reframe the way we think regarding him, and allow for him to have that reality.”

I said, “Ok, good! It’s heartening to hear you say that, because all along in this situation, he’s been made to feel as though he’s off-base and yet he has said to me, quite clearly and consistently, ‘this is how it feels to me…’ and so while I’m thrilled to hear him stand up for himself, I’ve secretly feared that The Big School Machine would see it differently… that he’d be compelled to fight for his perception. But your stance is quite empathetic, isn’t it? That is progress.”

She smiled. She got it. We were on the same track.

I smiled, inside and outside. Her actions, she assures me, are reflective of her appreciation of my son’s appeals.

I’ve been raising my boys to be candid, speak up for themselves, be real, be fair, be kind, but above all, to be strong. As like me, they are imperfect. We screw up, sometimes in an epic fashion. But we amend. We own it.

I’ve told them that not everyone, in fact most people, will be unwilling to agree with their perceptions, and that they also will likely not always agree with other peoples’ perceptions. That disagreement, however, needn’t look like war. That disagreement, is often a bridge to greater understanding and allowing of The Other, so long as we are willing to get out of our own way.

I have a yoga student who amazes me. She’s started a blog, at my suggestion, because she has a very clear voice and she is super energetic. She, like you and I and the guy down the street, is a unique individual. She has an amazing and humbling story, which she has cast aside as something she doesn’t want to focus on, but I see it differently. I’ve absolutely allowed her her own opinion, but her survival of a catastrophic car wreck and subsequent traumatic brain injury and recovery and now being a yoga devotee, has leveled me flat.

She has this thing though, as we all do, about aging and perfection and reality… and then the at-times Oprah-imposed thrust of gratitude for our ever-present abundance. She wrote about it here, “The Art of Perfectionism.” I read that post and as much as I wanted to say, “you’re awesome! let it go! don’t you see how incredible you are?!” I had to sit back, take a few breaths and say… “Ok.”

Enter: empathy. “Feeling with people.”

I’ve read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. I did a 30 Days of Brené Brown blog challenge. I’ve learned a lot about myself through that and other challenges, actual, life challenges.

Empathy, as Brown explains it, assures that we not necessarily have a personal first-hand experience with the situation. That’s impossible, anyway, as we are all wired differently and also have entirely discrete appreciations (i.e., “How do I know the blue you see is the same blue I see, man?”) which have shaped our perceptions.

Brené says quite clearly, “rarely can a response make something better; what can make something better, is a connection.”

What empathy does require, is the simple awareness that someone else is going through Something and that our appreciation of that other person’s Something is shared. Then, due to that awareness, right there!: a connection, no matter how ephemeral or even shallow, is made.

The Something needn’t be a “bad” Something! It can be an engagement or a divorce, a new job or a firing, or a lottery winning or a bankruptcy, or a book deal or a scandal.

Our appreciation can appear as simple as “Wow! That’s some news. I have no personal experience with that, but I can appreciate that it’s a lot to take in…”

And you’re DONE. Empathy accomplished. The other person is heard and their Something is Acknowledged — NOT EVEN VALIDATED, just acknowledged. Y’dig? (And if they need more from you on the matter, that’s on them… you don’t have to give more.)

That empathetic moment is quite simple — yet it’s one of the hardest things to perform.

Why? Why is it so hard? WHYYYYYY???

Because we have to get in the way.

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.

-Zig Ziegler

We have to be right.

We have to compare.

We have to fix.

We have to feel small inside.

We have to fight.

We have to prove otherwise.

We have to feel less-than or more-than.

We have to somehow, even though it’s a direct violation of empathy, find some form or relevance of that information, that Something, to fit into OUR LIVES or we risk feeling…

Irrelevant.

Which we are… at that moment, because The Something isn’t about us. It seldom is and it likely won’t ever be about us, THANKFULLY (for we have enough going on in our lives, right? but we don’t want to think about our lives… we want to think about other peoples’ lives so we don’t have to think about our lives… i do it all the time…)!

It’s about the Owner of The Something.

All this act of … sharing requires is that We Hear and See The Other. That’s all. And maaaaaaybe… just maybe we can see ourselves –identify the need within ourselves to have Our Own Thing– in that other person? Just a smidge? Eeency weeny itty bitty bit? And what’s more: let them have Their Own Thing? That’s a connection right there. 

"we're all a little crazy," -my sage brother

“we’re all a little crazy,” -my sage brother.

I’m not asking you to see yourself in others; I’m asking you to see Others in yourself — let it be about them, not you, allow yourself to open…

So I was thrilled when the administrator said, “his perception is reality and we have to take that into consideration; just because we don’t have that experience, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t…”

And my heart sang. LA LA LA LA LAAAAAAAAA! Your blue might not be the same blue as my blue, but I trust that you know I have my own blue and I trust that your blue is great for you!

So remember: when The Other shares Something, you don’t have to go digging into your data vault of relevance to see if you’ve got something better, or similar, or worse or bigger or smaller.

You can just sit there and say, “Wow. That’s some news. I have no personal appreciation of that [BECAUSE I AM NOT YOU AND THAT NOT BEING YOU REQUIRES THAT I GET OUT OF MY OWN WAY TO SEE THAT YOU ARE SEPARATE, a’hem] but I can appreciate that it might [NOT “will”] take some time to adjust to that…”

Try it. And here’s a great thing: just being empathetic with that person doesn’t mean you’re on their bus. It doesn’t mean you’ve attached yourself or that you’ve taken a blood oath of permanence. It just means — AT THAT MOMENT — that you’re appreciating their situation.

So can you do that? Can you just… allow someone else to have Their Own Something?

Here’s the best video I’ve ever seen about this.

Thank you.

 

Missives from the Mat 7 — Mission Statements, Tuning In, #Intention, #Neutrality, #Business, #Management

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If you think this post is only about yoga, you’re wrong. This post is about life, intention, and something we all need some help with from time to time: staying focused.

When I was on the retreat (yes, I’m writing about the retreat again as a point of reference), we “tuned in” with a chant every time we did something new or began the day or the session.

The chant was usually “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo.” If we’d already done that and took a break from a lesson but came back to the lesson, we’d do another chant, “Ad Guray Nameh” and that would be for the all-important purpose of: focusing, getting us all BACK on the same page, continuing the tone we set previously, and continuing the intention.

For the purposes of the yoga instruction, it’s not unlike the Pledge of Allegiance that is said in schools across the country. It’s not unlike the oath a witness takes with one hand on the Bible when in court. It’s not unlike “Amen” at church. It’s not unlike “to those about to die, we salute you” in the gladiator days. It’s not unlike singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” before a football, soccer, baseball, hockey game in stadiums and little league fields dotting America. Think: Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech.

Y’dig?

Doing all those things Sets The Tone for what we’re all about to do. That’s all it does. It doesn’t change your religion, it doesn’t make a radical shift in your already unique personality, it doesn’t mean you’ve joined a cult. It means you’re simply On Board with what you said you’d be on board with… it’s basically committing: putting your money where your mouth is for the purposes of what you’re about to do. Y’know, “checking your ego at the door.”

So while I was on that retreat, I realized about halfway through it that I hadn’t seen a mission statement for the organization I’d just begun presiding: the high school rowing team’s Board of Directors.

This was a big deal to me because I’m big on communication and intention and orientation: not only knowing what the hell we’re doing, but also WHY we’re doing it, it’s part of my 3 thing (see yesterday’s post).

The lack of the mission statement (to me) highlighted many of the previous Boards’ struggles: dysfunctional behavior, personal agendas, bias, the lack of neutrality, and a host of other really random, toxic and odd behaviors befitting an entire season of “The Office.”

So for the two days I was home between the vegan yoga retreat I’d closed and the bacon beach bacchus I was about to experience, I’d decided to come up with a mission statement. I had based it on the PTA mission statement I used as my e-mail signature and posted on my bulletin board during my tenure.

Having that verbiage kept me impartial, it helped me to remember, at the time, that my clients were people who couldn’t open their own milk in the cafeteria, or who couldn’t yet tie their own shoes, or who needed to ask permission and then get a buddy to go to the bathroom with them. I’d often reminded the past principal of her clients during one of our many heated exchanges and I often got the sense that she didn’t like that reminder.

So for the rowing team, I needed to keep my eye on the prize here as well. Who are my clients as the president of the board of directors that oversees and manages the high school rowing team?

Are my clients the parents? No.

Are my clients the coaches? No.

Are my clients the other officers? No.

My clients are the at-times gangly, pimpled, awkward, loud, self-conscious, diamonds in the rough we call high school students.

So when I’d proposed my mission statement to the other officers on the Board, I began with a simple relative comment, “All of you were informed that I was on a yoga teacher training retreat for basically 20 days, in total. If you’re at all familiar with yoga, you might know that many classes begin with a chant, ‘om’ before the work begins.” I got a couple weird stares, and a couple self-conscious snorts from some of my fellow officers… that was about them, not me, so I ignored them.

I continued, “I’m not here to make you do that. I have no expectations that any meeting ever will begin with ‘om.’ The purpose of saying ‘om’ at the start of a yoga practice, group or solo, is to ‘tune in’ to get everyone / your spirit on the vibrational level of what you’re about to do. I won’t go into the energy and the vibrational effects of chanting because that’s not what this organization is about, but what I am here to do is to create a mission statement to do the very simple-sounding yet difficult act of creating neutrality and inspiring all of us to work in the best interest of the rowers, not our children who happen to be rowers, but all rowers. Capiche?”

The awkward glances and snorts were replaced with seating shifts, focused eyes, throat clearing and “great idea.”

So the mission statement I’d created for the rowing Board is open for discussion, editing, critique, and intention with the other officers. We will vote on it at the next meeting after everyone gets a chance to process it and think of how it might need any changes. I’m pumped. One of my goals all along, in all of my life actually (as it’s becoming stunningly clear to me every day) is to clear the lines of communication; to encourage people to be more aware of the words they say and more importantly, to hear the words other people say.

I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: 95% of all communication is nonverbal. That means eye rolls (contempt), shoulder shrugs (frustration), pursed lips (conflict, fear of speaking), pursed lips with puffed cheeks (‘you’re full of it and here it comes…’) dead stares (anger), fast nods (agreement, but rushing, ‘get on with it’).

I was speaking to my husband about this mission statement stuff this morning and we agreed that we should create mission statements for ourselves, on a personal level, to make sure we are honoring our own personal growth which will naturally affect the growth of the organizations we serve: our children, our colleagues, our neighbors, our friends, people in traffic with us, people in the coffee shop with us, people on retreat with us, our families of origin and … our Selves. Maybe when we get all that done, we can come up with a mission statement for our little team here at the house.

So, do you (at business, at home, on the street, in the car, at the water cooler, on the couch with your kid, in the bed with your lover, in the mirror with yourSelf ) have a mission statement?

What is your mission in life? To be world-class selfish or to be world-class awesome?

Mine is to be world-class awesome. As soon as I finalize it, I’ll share it.

Thank you.

Communication & Filters

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Communication & Filters

I always thought I was an excellent communicator.

Today I went out with my husband in the rowing double. He sits in front of me so I can stabilize the boat. So this means I see his back as his blades hit and move the water. That’s it; but it’s not nothing: I see his posture and his slide technique and so I can tell him (or whomever is in that seat) what’s up with the strokes, how to improve form and the rest. It’s not so much that I’m a genius, it’s that I’ve got experience and when you’re dealing with novice rowers in a double (the theories are different in larger boats) the more experienced rower sits in the bow seat, behind the stern seat.

This was our second outing and per the rules of the boat club, I can’t take him out any more; he’ll have to join. I’m allowed to take a person as a guest twice; I can take you if you’d like, but only twice. It’s fair.

It’s also a good thing that I can’t go any more to teach my husband.

I don’t know if our marriage would survive it.

The thing is, no man wants his wife telling him how to do anything; least of all anything athletic and as exquisite and responsive as a sport as rowing. Even though he rationally defers to my expertise, I suspect that deep inside he’s thinking, “It can’t really be this hard… I mean, she does it…” and this is not to paint a broad brush of antiman-ness: my husband is extremely open-minded about this stuff. It’s just that it’s an adjustment.

But in the boat, I’m not his wife: I’m a rower and a member of the club. The equipment is signed out on my name with my person being the responsible party.

What all this means in the boat and on the water is that I’m a coach to him. So I’m more technical, detached, professional and … intense. It’s not my $7,000 boat to screw around in. But as much as he benefitted from my teaching, he wanted me to be softer, more patient, more “here’s a sandwich I made for you”: more wifely.

No frigging way. Our chances of tipping were low because I was holding the balance with my blades flat on the water while he gained experience. Today we rowed four miles and were out for about 90 minutes. He liked it and when I was rowing us around turns, he got a few moments to watch the sunlight dance on the water as it just crested the trees while being rocked to the rhythm of my rowing.

My husband is smart, mellow and athletic, so his catching on to the work, technique and gaining confidence is simply a matter of time and he’s well on his way.

RICK! gave this print to me for my birthday last year. She is a very thoughtful gift giver. I can learn a lot from her. “Rushing the slide” is what happens when someone slides up to the catch (the beginning of the stroke, which is where they are all positioned) apart from the rhythm of the rest of the rowers. Superman, sitting in “stroke” seat, feels it most. It’s frustrating to Green Lantern in “bow” seat because Flash’s back might come in contact with the handle of Green Lantern’s oar if the timing is off. After a while, if you were to row in front of me and consistently mess up the timing, you’d probably end up in dialysis because I’d get tired of you being in my space when I’m prepping to take a stroke. While the sketch is cute, it’s Batman who would be most disturbed by Flash’s rushing although the entire boat would feel it. I wonder if that’s why they made me stroke last year because I was such a jerk to anyone who slacked in front of me by the fourth month of rowing together.

What I learned from our second outing is something I’ve always known, but it was made phantasmagorically obvious (despite our 22 years as a couple) in the shell: he’s nice and tender and I’m a bull in a china shop. I know the lingo, I know the sport, I know the effects of lifting one hand over the other and what that does to the boat’s balance. The first time we went out, we had only an hour when we planned on having two hours. We lost all that time due to technical difficulties with the equipment which resulted in our having to take the entire first shell out of the water and bringing it back to the boathouse and trading it in for another one. I was glad he was undeterred about getting the second boat because he was sort of playing hooky from work for that extra hour. That first outing made us both slightly more efficient and clippy in our chatter and the resulting intensity was not entirely welcome.

When we docked after that first outing, the head coach of a local university crew quipped, “Are you still married? How’d it go?” He knows how this can go.

Because I know the jargon, I take a lot for granted. My husband wanted me to not use the jargon or to use the jargon and then its street equivalent; he wanted me to tenderize it all for him a bit.

No frigging way. I learned with coaches saying “weigh nuf,” followed by the street “stop rowing” about three times and then I was on my own and people in the boat would yell at me with both versions if I didn’t figure it out. Same thing with “square and bury your blades. That means to put them in the water perpendicularly.” It was the same with “sit ready at the catch” (which means to sit all the way up the slide with your shins perpendicular to the water and you’re ready to press / slide back for the boat to move beneath you, as in the picture above) – I told him what it meant, but I wasn’t going to add, “honey” or “sweets” to it.

It can be overwhelming on the water: it’s wet, deep and murky and the air is cool now. You don’t want to fall in. You want to succeed and so much of what you’re learning is multi-sensory. But the number one thing that’s gonna blow it for you on the water is thinking, so just be.  I stated commands (he’ll probably tell you I barked them) and was clear about them. I could have been gentler, but he’s not a child and part of sitting behind the person is that I can’t see what he’s actually doing so my comments are based on evidence and results of his actions rather than the actions themselves.

At about miles two and three, things began to significantly improve. We did a couple stationary drills and some balance work and I was very enthusiastic about his progress: he really started to get it! And then…

At the end of the fourth mile, he was getting tired, his posture was fading, he was making old mistakes and becoming easily frustrated. It was time for a naaaap. We’d been out for more than an hour and we were both ready to head in (he’s heavy!). We had a successful outing and all of it –from my china shop bull to his love me tender– started to gel and sink in. For him, the action is a part of his muscle memory now and just needs more experience and time. And another partner. He can go with RICK next time and I’ll take her husband in my shell.

All this got me thinking: despite my best intentions, our communication is not as strong as I thought it was and this was slightly dismaying to me because we talk a lot.

And then there’s the filter, or the perspective or the perception of both parties: I had an unfair expectation that he was able to deal with the massive amounts of information on a physically unstable surface and he had the expectation that I was going to be wifely and kind and patient.

The same sort of disconnect happened last month for his birthday. He wanted these super-awesome TRX bands for his workouts and I ordered them for him. I’d never used them and he used them in his bootcamp last year. The thing is: they take a while to set up and then you’re supposedly good to go. He was so excited to show them to me that he opened the box and tried to demonstrate them. I am TRX-neutral: I don’t care and I probably won’t really use them as I have my own routines. The thing is: he wanted me to see how easy and awesome they are and he couldn’t because it took a while to set up and I stood and watched. In a lather of frustration, he ended up throwing up his arms and not being able to show me. I said, “I’m glad you’re excited and I’m sure they’re great…” and he took that as a dismissal. The thing is: there was no winning or losing for either of us. He was thrilled but he wasn’t prepared to show me and I waited in neutral for him to show me while he couldn’t get it to work. If I said nothing, I’dve been a jerk. If I said “yay!” I’dve been insincere.

.  .  .  .  .  .

These expectations and filters bring lots of thoughts and memories and personal experiences to my mind and I’d like to share a couple with you.

I’m reminded me of a demonstration I saw on a middle-school children’s TV show, “Zoom!” a few years back when my team still watched public television. The challenge was simple enough: instruct a partner to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They had four pairs of the kids and each pair built its success / communication formula off the previous pair’s demonstration with not much time between sets. In each pair one person was the director and the other person was ops. The director was blindfolded and the ops person was not allowed to speak back or ask questions, the ops person simply had to do what it was told.

mmm. send me to the hospital. stat.

The first pair’s basically ended up with a loaf of still-bagged sliced bread crushed under the weight of a closed jar of peanut butter and a closed jar of jelly and then both ends of the bagged bread were pressed together. That was funny and it showed me how much we all take for granted when we communicate — these kids on Zoom! are supposed to be the creme de la creme of their peer group. The second pair improved but only slightly: two slices of bread were taken out of the bag and the jars were still closed, but the jelly jar was on top of the peanut butter jar and both jars nested between the slices of bread. The third pair took out the slices, spread the peanut butter on a slice of bread and then spread the jelly on a slice of bread and then stacked the slices, condiment side up so it looked like this from the top: jelly on bread, peanut butter on bread. The fourth pair got it figured out and enjoyed the sandwich. Their cups of milk were already poured for them and everyone learned a valuable lesson: slow down, use details, listen and watch.

Another example is holidays — personal, national, dubious (Hallmark) or imaginary: If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I look askance at New Year’s Day as a time for personal renewal: every day is a chance to change our lives. Valentine’s Day is a gimmick (to me) and I don’t get stupid drunk on St. Patrick’s Day.

In my home on birthdays, we make a cake and frost it and sing and give nice gifts. It’s not a full-bore blowout experience. In my family of origin, birthdays were special, but not considered reasons to have explosives and helium tanks and gunships. I used to know someone whose family of origin dwarfed coronations with their birthday celebrations: balloons at breakfast, the table festooned with used car lot flags, party hats, noise makers, the works. So when this person’s birthday came around and I was in the picture, I presented a card and a thoughtful gift. Sometimes I was late, but I never forgot the person’s special day and I’d call or send a note if I didn’t present the gift on time. The reception was frosty and any recognition was doomed to fail. This was based on both our filters: she was used to people taking out second mortgages to celebrate and I was used to people giving a hug, singing a song and life resuming to its normally scheduled programming. Even after we talked about our historical differences and expectations and filters, the experiences were never fulfilling for either of us. On my birthdays, she’d come over with a cake and balloons and her kids and they’d all sing to me and I’d be all like “WOAH” and “GetthefuckoutIjustwokeup!” and whatnot.

As I ponder all these experiences and examples of communication and filters and expectations, it makes me think of how to best survive on this big blue rock: have an open mind and have an open heart. I can do myself a favor by not expecting people to be able to read my mind and I can try not to anticipate what other people might have in their minds. I was at a wedding a few years ago and the celebrant said this, “My mother often reminded me as I grew up that I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. As our beloved couple embarks on their lifelong journey together as husband and wife and as we all bear witness to their union, I propose to all of us here tonight that we remember to use our ears more than our mouths.”

And I’ll add this: when we use our mouths, we do so with kindness and efficiency.

Sometimes easier said than done.

Thank you.