How to have non-judgmental conversations
Recently, I talked separately with a few people who surprised me with their positions — positions which did not make very much sense to me. I wanted to react. I felt judgmental. I was tempted to argue. Then I considered just making an excuse to end the conversation and escape the discomfort.
But I recalled Robert Wicks and his book Streams of Contentment. Robert Wicks is a psychologist and educator. Some of the words from his book:
When annoyances, compulsions, and disagreements are present in our lives, allow these feelings, thoughts, understandings, and perceptions to be treated as worthy…
we must see them non-judgmentally and with a sense of intrigue –
not with a sense of arrogance by projecting the blame on others, ignorance by blaming ourselves, or discouragement because we want them to go away.
Everything is worth examining and bringing home to integrate into our lives.
When we do this, we will feel more energetic, free, and peaceful…
because the energy we had previously spent on resentment, shame, self-inflation, deflation, or defensiveness…
is now at our disposal to use for enjoying our lives and being helpful to others.
So I tried to follow Robert Wicks’ advice. I swallowed my pride, stopped getting defensive, and didn’t try to prove the others were wrong, although I did say things like, “I have a hard time believing that”.
Instead, I asked where they were coming from? When did you adopt this position, and why? What was the source of your information? How many people join with you in your position? Tell me about these other people – what they do, where they work?
Each conversation lasted at least thirty minutes. Instead of me debating and criticizing, the tension eased as we continued to speak cordially and respectfully.
In one case, we switched to another topic, and one person gave me advice for dealing with a difficult person I was trying to help. The advice came from a similar experience that had occurred in his own life, and the advice was particularly valuable.
I try to remember Robert Wicks advice whenever I get into a difficult conversation that’s tight with tension. I try first to listen to what they are saying, and ask where they are coming from. The old cherry about having two ears and only one mouth has truth to it.
This approach does not stop me from expressing my opinion. But it takes a little humility to step back and listen first. Robert Wicks says to be intrigued by the situation, by the conversation, and to see what I might learn – to admit that I don’t know everything about the topic.
Last, to be clear, this approach does not replace confronting someone where a wrong occurred or boundaries were not respected, and that has caused unjust pain and hurt. There is a time and a place for confrontation, and for firm words or actions needed to rectify an abusive situation. But this is another subject for another time.
BLOG TOPICS: I write in-depth blogs about a mix of topics: Health and Hiking, and Science and Energy, and Inspiration and Hope.
The Gray Nomad ….. you can turn difficult conversations into respectful ones.
When we take knowledge and add humility, we get wisdom. When we add this wisdom to compassion, we get love.
[Streams of Contentment by Robert Wicks.]