This article is hard to write not because of any uncertainty about what I want to say but simply because I want to gently suggest an idea to you. I do not want to come across as a know-it-all and raise your defenses. Maybe I worry too much. I am quite sure that you are open to considering new points of view; why else would you read posts like this? But still, I fret.
TV excites. The news makes our blood boil. It cranks us up, inflames our passions, gets the adrenaline pumping.
Talk radio excites. We tune in to shows that align with our own beliefs and listen to the callers who are most fired up, most opinionated.
It is all too easy to carry this excitement into our conversations. I have played scenes like this all too frequently:
I meet up with you and we start talking about the news of the day. I heard some great story on the radio and it confirmed my opinions. I know what should be done so I tell you all about it. You know what should be done, too, and you tell me about your ideas. Trouble is, we do not agree. Since time is short, I cut to the chase to convince you that my ideas are right. I struggle to find the words that will change your mind. Eventually, we part ways. I am wired and whipped. The conversation was hard work, frustratingly so because I could not convince you. If only you would see it my way!
Sound familiar? I know that I can easily drop into that mode. I know that I have done so when I leave a conversation feeling somewhere between mildly annoyed and thoroughly angered because yet again I failed to convince. When we do that, we get caught between exhaustion and urgency. We tire of trying yet we cannot abandon the effort because so much is at stake.
I have found another way to converse which inevitably leaves me feeling good about my interactions. It is a little more work at the front-end of a dialog because I often tend toward my convince-you mode and I need to catch myself and change my pattern. Here is the trick: When I start a conversation with you, I consciously ask myself, How can I delight you today? That simple question changes my focus from me to you. Though I may enter the dialog with an idea in mind, an idea that I want to convey, I open myself to what you want to take away from our conversation. Maybe you have something that you need to get off your chest. Maybe you need to vent before you can hear my idea. Maybe you are so consumed with something else that my concerns pale in comparison. Maybe your mind is made up and we can agree to disagree before moving on to a more rewarding topic. Whatever it is, if I can delight you in our conversation then I will always leave the conversation invigorated and cheered rather than battle weary. Smiles are infectious. One of the best ways that I know to make myself smile is to see a smile on your face.
After I ask, How can I delight you today?, my immediate task is to find the answer. I have to know the how. When I was growing up, I tuned my E.S.P. to help with my interpersonal interactions. You probably did this, too. Have you ever wanted something particular for Christmas but been banned from asking for it because asking just is not right? Have you ever wondered what to get someone for his birthday but not asked what he wants because asking is just plain wrong? Trouble is, try as I might, I never got very good at the E.S.P. thing. One bad example came in junior high school when I got my dad a really cool atlas for Father’s Day. He received it graciously but I do not think he ever opened the book. I was such a sensitive, loving son.
I have learned that the best way to answer, How can I delight you today? is to pay careful attention to what you say. When you are talking, I listen. Instead of trying to formulate my next sentence, instead of thinking about what I will say next, I pay attention to what you are saying. The downside is that there might be lulls in our conversation. After you stop speaking, there might be a little silence while I digest what I heard and come up with a reply. That’s OK; if it moves me from convincing-you mode to conversing-with-you mode, the lull is a small price to pay.
Many of these ideas come from Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg. His writing is kind of dry but his ideas are golden. When we talk or write with the goal of simply understanding each other we grow closer together and avoid violence. At least in my life, I have found him to be right. For instance, I found myself arguing less frequently with my sons after I switched from telling them stuff to consciously trying to delight them. That did not mean that I gave up parenting them, that I tried to always give them what they wanted instead of what I thought they needed. I just climbed down off my high horse.
At the beginning of this blog posting, I worried that I would put you off. I hope that, instead, I have brought a little delight into your day. Please let me know how I did.