Paul Klipp on Listening Part III
- Let the other think, which I covered in Part I,
- Understand emotional expressions, which I covered in Part II, and
- Train your mind to listen and understand, even when things get rough. That’s covered in this post.
Imagine you’re sitting in your quiet office, diligently working on something, and your boss storms in and yells at you, “I can’t believe we have to postpone the release of this feature, again!” Your non-violent communication skills might help you to come up with a helpful response now, as you’re reading this. When you’re in that situation though, being yelled at, these skills might not be accessible to you.
Visceral reactions are part of how our brain works. They originate in the amygdala, the lizard brain. Under stress it overrules the frontal lobe, which can control our emotions. That’s the reason we need the third concept Paul introduced us to in his listening talk: mindfulness, or mindfulness meditation. Let’s think for a moment of one major difference between humans and animals.
Have you ever seen a nature program where gazelles are chased by a predator? When the cheetah approaches, the gazelles’ flight response kicks in and they run. Do you remember what happens when the cheetah has caught a gazelle? What do all of the other gazelles do? They go back to grazing. Danger is over.
Our flight or fight response doesn’t turn off. Because our brain is a wonderful problem solving tool, and it does that by association. Our brain is an automatic association engine.
When we see something that triggers a need to respond, and feelings do that very well, our mind very quickly thinks of every single time where we felt that way. It remembers every time you have been in a similar bad situation. Every time it thinks of one, it compounds the fear, it’s looking for advice, for a time you’ve been in a similar situation and found a solution. Our brain does that really well. Yet, it doesn’t really help, especially in social situations. Remembering every single time someone has yelled at you, and you felt demeaned, does not give you the confidence you need to approach that kind of situation.
Being Gear For Listening
What you need to be able to is to switch gears. And those gears are what practitioners of mindfulness have referred to as “doing” and “being”. Doing mode is where we spend most of our time in. We are taking in our environment, lots of stimuli, and evaluate: “This is important, that is important. This a good thing, that is a bad thing. I should do this about this thing, what shall I do about that thing?”
Whereas in being mode, you are not judging. You just see, “that is the situation. I see this is happening I see him behaving in that way, I can see her reacting in that way. I can see me responding in this way.” You are not judging, not thinking what anyone should or shouldn’t be doing. You don’t think about good or bad, right or wrong. And it’s in this mode that you can really understand what is going on.
So, how do we switch into that mode when we are in a high-tension situation and we need to? You need to be able to see when your brain is kicking into a non-desirable sequence of thoughts, and you need to be able to switch gears. This requires a lot of practice. And one practice, which Paul thinks of as a brain hack, is mindfulness meditation.
Paul let us practice the simplest way of doing mindfulness meditation he knows, for three minutes. It works like this:
Relax, sit comfortably. (Paul actually lied down on stage for three minutes as you can see on the picture above. I love his courage.) Think for a moment about how you feel right now. Sense what’s going on in your body, mind and heart. Just understand where you are right now.
Count your inhalations, up to ten, and then start over again at one. Don’t try to breath differently, just count each breath up to ten.
If you find yourself distracted, by a thought or a feeling, acknowledge that and refocus on counting. If you lose track of the count, that’s ok. Just recognise that you got distracted, and shift your focus back and start over at one.
If you want to, do this now, for three minutes. Sit comfortably, set a timer. Then check in with yourself, and count your breaths for three minutes.
Alright. Now: Did you at some point notice your mind drifting and needed to go back to sensing your breaths and start counting again? Did you actually lose track at some point of where you were? If so, you were very effectively meditating.
If, on the other hand, you managed to keep counting up to ten over and over again for three minutes, you did not meditate. You just counted your breaths. Paul suggested to try it for five minutes the next time.
The magic of mindfulness meditation is this: You notice that a straight thought has drifted in. You grow your ability to notice that you have been distracted, and your ability to shift your focus back to what you want to be focused on. You train your ability of Taming Your Mind. (That’s the subtitle of the brilliant book “Sane New World” by Ruby Wax about depression, how our mind works, and how we can train our brains using practices like this. There’s also one involving chocolate. Highly recommended!)
When you first do this, you might find that it takes you ten seconds or more until you realise that your brain is drifting away from what you want to be doing, like listening. That you are having a thought you didn’t choose to think, or experiencing an emotion which you didn’t invite and choose to experience. It’s taking your attention away. With more practice, the more you train this, the quicker it happens. You notice that there’s a thought of feeling drifting by, and you don’t want to think or feel that right now, and stay being where you are, in the moment. You decide not to think that thought, not to experience that feeling, now. You keep focusing.
That’s exactly the talent you need when someone runs into your office and yells at you. If you have that experience of practicing in a safe place, the same thing happens in your brain as when you meditate: you notice the emotions that come up—anger, fear, resentment, frustration. You’ll realise you did not choose to feel those emotions right now and that they won’t help you in the situation at hand. Instead, you want to access your knowledge about non-violent communication. So, instead of my heart rate going up and you being carried away by your emotions, you stay calm and ask, “I’m sorry, do you feel angry because you think we mislead you with our estimates?” You are able to have a conversation. You’re able to understand how he feels, what he needs to make him more comfortable, and how you can actually help him address that need.
Let’s recap the three powerful concepts that Paul included in his talk:
- Listening well to create a thinking environment for people to fully develop their thoughts on a topic,
- Non-violent communication to understand and discern observations, emotions, needs and requests, and
- Mindfulness practice to tame your mind to be able to access these skills when your lizard brain wants to kick you into flight, fight or freeze responses.
Thank You, Paul!
A final statement of gratitude: Out of all the methods and tools and skills I have been developing in my adult and professional life, these are probably the three most important ones. I’m specifically grateful for having experienced Paul’s talk at ALE14 for three reasons:
- Listening well is a skill I wasn’t consciously aware of. I now see how I’m significantly improving my effectiveness in communication, even only in those few weeks since I learned that from Paul.
- I’ve never heard or read a better ore more concise introduction to NVC than Paul’s, and I’ve read all the books about NVC out there. I’ve been practicing it for multiple years. Hearing his story of the son and his mom triggered me first to ask Paul for a recording (which he graciously provided, thank you!) and write these posts.
- Most of all, is so obviously effective, and so relatively easy to learn and master, that I’m most grateful for the overall combination.
I hope that this written up and summarised version is helpful to you. If so, please leave a comment explaining how it has helped you. I’m sure that Paul will be as interested in your feedback as I am.
Thank you. If we are all listening more mindfully and non-violently, giving each other the space to develop our thoughts, we’ll co-create magnificence.