March 10, 2020

Creating Connection: Taking a Look in the Mirror


Continuing the Yes, And vs. No, But mind-set/heart-set dialogue to create connected conversations. . . . communication author book creatingconnection

How I respond to you is a reflection of how I feel about myself. The tone I set and the norms I create with others are an extension of my internal dialogue, my self-talk, and the relationship I have with me. This is both good news and great news. It means that I am empowered to take charge of our interaction by taking 100% responsibility for how I receive and send my message. I can be proactive about how I process what you say and positive about how I reply. It also means that I need to take a focused, in-the-sound-studio-with-professional-external-noise-cancelling-headphones listen to the voiceover in my mind. What am I saying about the person or situation in front of me? Is there a “no, but” in my internal dialogue? Or a multitude of disagreements that make the other wrong? We may think that we’re holding it all in by biting our tongues, but we’re broadcasting our thoughts and feelings through our facial expression, vocal quality and body language. We’re not fooling ourselves and we’re not fooling anyone else. My teenage son will sometimes say to me, “mom, why are you looking at me that way? I don’t like that look” just as I’m thinking that I’m proud of myself for reserving my opinions. A self-aware woman at work today told me, “I’m sorry, did I roll my eyes out loud?”

And the goal should not be to trick anyone or practice self-deception. That’ll catch up too quickly in a negative way. To have productive relationships with ourselves and with others, we need to be open and honest – the key is to do it respectfully in a manner that doesn’t impose our beliefs on others and negates their right to have a different perspective. Last weekend, my son said to me: “I’d like to borrow your car and drive with my friends to the beach. We haven’t been for a while and it sounds like it’ll be a fun afternoon.” When I answered with “Yes, and you’ve been feeling under the weather, so remember it’s colder and windier at the beach” he didn’t take it as me trying to avert his plans, but rather making him aware. He responded with “I’m going to wear sweats and a hoodie and go earlier” and then I didn’t have to nag him and tell him what he already knew. When you come from the spirit of “yes, and” you can add more wishes and wants because you’re building and elevating and it feels like a true two-sided dialogue. Instead of holding back my thoughts and squirming, I said “yes, and make sure you put gas in the car and take money for parking…and the LA Marathon is going on today so there may be a lot of traffic in Santa Monica.” None of this was the typical parent-child “no, and here are all the reasons why not.” It was “yes, and these are the caveats.” I empowered my son to figure out the best traffic route before leaving and he was able to do what he wanted and make sure to do it responsibly, which is what I wanted in the situation. Of course he is still 16, so before leaving he naturally went to the “yes, and can I have money for gas and parking?” That’s ok…it led us to follow up with “yes, and the new restaurant opening up 5 minutes from us is hiring for host positions.”

This all goes back to our internal dialogue and how we feel about ourselves. I was in a positive space, wanting my teenager to have fun and go out with friends, wanting him to learn responsibility and figure out how to set himself up for success. At the time he made his request, I was sitting in front of my fireplace, reading City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – a section about a teen’s aunt in New York City telling her she’s young and this is the time for her to have fun. I think it’s significant to point this out because I was literally primed to be in a “yes, and” mindset and heart-set when my teen made his request to drive my car with his friends to the beach. I can think of many occasions when the opposite was true. I had just read the news about the increasing cases of car accidents or talked to another parent about the unruly behavior of teens when my 16-year-old unknowingly walked into my mood to ask a typical question like: “Can I go to a party tonight?” The words: “No…but parties are where kids get drunk, high, promiscuous, and arrested!!!” …were at the very least on my mind and a few of those may have trickled into my speech.

This is why we have to pay close attention to what is going on with us when we respond or react. It’s also why we have to be sensitive to where others are when they respond or react to us. If our boss, our colleague, our friend, our barista, or our kid’s teacher is in a happy state of mind, they are more likely to say “yes, and I am willing to take a look at your proposal,” or “yes, and maybe there’s another way we can look at our changing roles,” or “yes, and you’re so much better at hosting these brunches,” or “yes, and we have other options to replace the coffee you’re used to ordering,” or “yes, and while I don’t give extra credit on tests there is a project coming up that is worth a lot of points.” You might notice that many of these statements could have been made with a “No, but” attitude and tone. And many of these statements are not giving us what we’re asking for – an agreement with our proposal, a commiseration about our current position, a willingness to take over hosting duties, the coffee we came in for or the grade my kid needs to get on the test to be admitted to the college of their choice.

Many times it’s about disagreeing agreeably, and that seems to be missing from many personal and professional conversations today. One – we don’t take the time to hear each other out. Two – we don’t put ourselves in the best state of mind to approach our relationships respectfully. And three – we don’t check in to ensure that the person we’re interacting with is in a conducive climate to connect with us. All three conditions are necessary for a “yes, and” mutually respectful dialogue and most times we don’t even have a third of this equation in place. If we want to improve our relationships and create fulfilling, meaningful connections we have to take these conditions into serious consideration and set up the best case scenarios as often as possible. It’s doable. And it’s worth it. It actually takes more time, more effort, and expensive energy to create the costly conflict we end up in when the conditions for connected conversation are not in place.