Yesterday I was having a coffee (well, I had the carrot salad and fizzy water) with a friend. This is Kim, a kindred spirit who I am inspired by and with and feel grateful when it works out that we can hang out. We were catching up after her travels; she was on a journey with one of her mentors/spiritual teachers in Mexico.
Our conversation was lovely and lively, and was running deep.
And then, I noticed a shift. It was ever so slight, a move in my seat, a twitch in my face, a noticing of a mild ‘unpleasant’. In reflection, this has happened before, I am very aware of it. And it is just now that I am uncloaking it, fully for myself and out loud.
Because I so often (over and over each week) repeat the words, “If there is no right and wrong, no good and bad, no moralistic judgment, only judgement if life is being served then we can talk about anything.”
It is this idea that my life is dedicated to.
It is with confidence and enthusiasm (and a sh*t-ton of uneasiness) that I share what happened in this conversation, as in hindsight, I have the slow motion version all the things I was aware of, what I wasn’t aware of, what I said, and now, what I wished I had said.
The needs I anticipate meeting by sharing this are integrity, learning, honesty (many people think I say everything perfectly all the time—which is just not true), community and belonging. I could remedy all this without sharing it here. Sharing this is the work. I hope it will help those who —like me, sometimes wish they could go back and have a conversation all over again.
Which we can!
Kim and I began with the usual chit-chat —what did you get to eat? —when did you get back? —-how was the weather there? —who were you with? —what happened in the mediations, blah, blah. We go pretty deep pretty fast, which occurs as a version small talk for us so I am not remembering how we got to the topic of ‘white privilege’ or just ‘privilege’. And it was those words, when my insides shrunk a bit. I felt the shift.
I’m not sure the degree which I would allow myself to feel deeply in this moment. I’m pretty conscious of trying not to feel intentionally —eek!!
I did not reveal this to Kim.
We kept talking and then she used the word ‘manipulation’ in reference to something I said I was doing.
In that moment I knew I felt uneasy, shame, frustration. I wanted her to take it back. I didn’t want to even consider for a moment that anything I was doing might be anything other than perfect, for the higher good, received delightfully, and the like.
I didn’t reveal this to Kim.
At this point, I was much more able to slow things down, yet in hindsight, no where near what I wish.
My initial thought was to say, ‘It isn’t manipulative. You are wrong, I am good, not bad.’ I was aware that I wanted to say something connecting instead, yet didn’t seem to have a variety of choices at the ready. All I could muster was, “It seems like you didn’t like what I was sharing with you?’
In that moment (and only for one moment) I felt relief. We were still talking, and I did not have to reveal anything. I was however, instantly aware of the increased distance.
In this moment, I feel regret.
I’m am guessing she in that moment felt/thought “ouch!”
I put all the responsibility of what was happening inside me on her.
We ended up having a conversation about the word and idea of manipulation, yet all the relational stuff, all the revealing, the juicy, heart stuff was left out. As I write this (less than 24 hours later) I haven’t shared any of this with Kim. If you are reading it, I have reached out and revealed all this to her.
[This is something I encourage over and over in coaching. When you notice it, it is healing and how you actually ‘learn how to communicate’ if/when you go and have the actual conversation (rather than just think about it and enjoy the awareness).]
Timeline of thoughts and feelings and actions:
When she referenced ‘privilege’, I felt uncomfortable –maybe a bit of resentment, and didn’t reveal.
When she used the word ‘manipulation’, I felt defensive, uneasy, shame, and more, and didn’t reveal.
Instead, I encouraged her to reveal what she meant by the word manipulative and we focused our attention on her, and the word/meaning itself. I was aware of an increased emotional distance, decreased connection with my good friend and found and my attention was 70% present and 30% focused on my sorting out my thoughts about how the conversation was going, what was going on for me, why I wouldn’t say anything, and things like that.
We found our way back pretty close to connection, although I don’t believe I really got back to 100% present. I was fairly connected to my distress about what had just happened.
I didn’t reveal any of this to Kim.
What I am aware of now is what I wished I said. I wished I said, “I’m feeling uncomfortable hearing you say that. Will you sit with me a bit, so we can explore it together?”
I am certain I would have gotten a ‘sure!’.
I am not going to write about what comes of this, or what precious needs are uncovered by my reflections and conversations with my friend. It isn’t about that.
This post is about how what to do when you lose connection in a conversation. How to find your way back to what’s important and to find ways to share the truth, what’s alive, and be authentic with those you care about.
This is NVC
NOTE: When I asked Kim for a conversation, she said, “Sure!”