(I don't want to throw my guys under the bus for lagging, it seems like many of us are -even outside of school. Is Mercury in retrograde, again?!?)
Erik has offered me at least two concise keys for the issues I've brought to our calls. One, "be the healer." Two, use "confusion" as a means to shift the focus onto what the conversation could accomplish. (If there is a third, it is, find humor, although that was never explicitly said. He and I have an easy time laughing in our process.)
At times in the past coaching conferences, his advises really didn't feel like a good fit for me. Either I disagreed or didn't fully understand. I think that his use of confusion, for example, is similar to my approach of just simply asking with honesty, "what are we accomplishing here?" If I take his guidance to act confused even though I'm not, I feel even less aligned with the other person in the conversation dynamic. When he shared this approach with me I pushed back a little, mainly because I simply didn't understand. Then we managed to move past it without deliberation.
This week we emailed and conferenced. First I sent him a short description of my concern -which is actually the same issue I've been stuck on for several weeks. He responded and included a note that his thoughts might be too much of a projection of his own stuff. I always admire that consideration. I read his response rapidly and was able to respond more fully in writing because somehow I didn't feel obligated to be a "good client" or to comply.
His guidance is worth considering, it just doesn't seem to be the right shape for my scenario. Also, he called attention to my claim that I'm a good empathic listener, saying that there is no metric for this. Since there is no metric, then is it really useful to conceive of ourselves this way when in dialogue? Erik seems to ask. I think yes, and I have collected enough evidence of this to believe it. Anyway, to be a committed listener is my intention, so self identifying doesn't seem problematic -any more than identifying as a healer. Having the opportunity to write my response gave me space to draw his attention to my scenario in a different way. After my response, I considered the possibility that I was missing his point and blocking out my needed growth.
My scenario needs be summarized in short form. I have two relationships that are similar. Both are long term, deep seated conflicts that push my boundaries, and assume right without taking my point of view for consideration. Typically, this kind of relationship is one I might end, but this isn't possible, nor is counseling. Since the only remedy I've been able to access is small doses and tolerance, I felt that nothing could be harmed if these were the subjects of experiment. Erik guides me away from the need to give my side of the story. This is why I've offered that I'm a dedicated empathic listener, because my listening has essentially given permission for the other party's poor behavior, rather than my intention to form a container.
I haven't heard from Erik on this point.
We did have an impromptu check-in mid week, which buoyed me at a low moment. The value of this kind of interaction is so valuable, because it gave each of us more dimension. I also felt an interesting shift from coach giving feedback and advice to peer giving understanding, acknowledgement and direct empathy. (I asked what he would do in my place). Our conversations are always enjoyable, I'd even call him a friend. But sometimes the role of coach seems over-important and I find myself aligning with him more than the other way around. To be transparent, I already know that I do this -it's an old, old habit that comes from "just making things easier for now" and other coping mechanisms in the face of perceived confrontation and exposure. Seeing this behavior of mine in plain light has been immensely useful, though I haven't shared this with Erik, because it doesn't feel pertinent.
Evidently, there may be no solution in reach at the moment for my relational dilemma of not being able to express my side of the story. But here, a connection between not being given space to share, and not wanting to for different reasons. Hmmmm! I can hold off on getting a solution for the relationships in question, and contemplate this little observation.
This post could be interpreted as a criticism about Erik and Andrew. Now seems to be a good time to reflect and assess the spaces of coaching and being coached, rather than on how I implement the feedback or what feedback I'm able to offer. Reading their posts about me hasn't been of interest. It's their business what they think of me and my coaching, and maybe they'd like the space to hash out incongruencies without worry that I might read.
Andrew has been basically out of touch, which I perceive to mean that he is stressed to his capacity. Since he is in another class and occasionally emails me questions about assignments or general thoughts, I have more than one opportunity to "take his temperature." While my heart goes out to him because his stress if very similar to mine, it's frustrating that he's hard to make plans with. It's especially frustrating because he says that my reassurance is helpful. And not to mention, my grade is dependent on his partnership. I get it. As a teacher myself, I see that Andrew is a particular classroom, and that time will tell if and how he'll be available to being supported. I know another person who would benefit so much from being seen if only they were more able to be exposed. You'd think as adults we'd be past that point, but why is the assumption there? I know that I had to break a belief membrane to begin getting the sunlight I needed, rather than feel resentful that no one came to my aid or fit my expectations. I see myself in Andrew. Maybe this is the deeper reason that I like coaching him. I acknowledge him so greatly for his earnestness because I know what a risk it is for him to be exposed during our Skype calls. I considered having a talk about being accountable and making actual plans instead of winging it each week, which so far has worked well enough. (In fact, I'm usually the one who forgets my calls with Erik, and Erik is super kind and easy going about it, thank god.) But having this conversation isn't in the scope of my purpose, and being forthright could collapse the trust I've earned.
He asked me to elaborate on Empathic listening, so I wrote him this. Maybe having the chance to read helped the information get into parts of his mind that respond better to visual information over audio.
Empathetic learning is nearly impossible if you haven't been able to detach yourself from your own emotions and the outcome of a conflict. An easier place to begin learning this skill is in conversations that have no conflict with someone you enjoy listening to.
The other week when you showed me what you look like when you actively listen is a good place to begin. The person you were listening to gave you feedback that you seemed distant. When we experimented I felt that way, too, even thought I knew exactly what we were doing. So we know that there are body language and facial expressions that let the person know you are interested and care about the story. Just looking at a person can happen when we're drifting into our own thoughts, or looking through the person as if to judge them. When we watch a movie or t.v. it's okay to just look at the screen, but with a person not so much.
I wonder if the people who complain about their listener not being attentive are mostly women, and guys might not even notice because they're socially conditioned to think they don't need that connection. I've known so many guys who feel very pressured when I tell them it seems like they're not listening, as if they can't eve possibly live up to the female expectations. These guys aren't even aware of their own emotions. Empathy really does improve when we know our own emotions because our own feelings become a "catalogue" of "yea, I know how that feels" or "I kind of know how that feels, so I can relate" or "I have no idea how that feels, but I know how other things have felt for me, so I'm interested in hearing more."
In my own life, the lack of support/love/encouragement that I've felt came from my inability to feel it even when it was right there in front of me. Also, I didn't really love myself and this is an on-going evolution for me. There's always something for me to accept and stop beating myself up about. In Jungian psychology, this is called Accepting Your Shadow Side. The shadow side is what we would like to disown, so it's like a blind spot.
I learned over the weekend that good listening is like telling the truth. IF and when we care, we demonstrate it by being available -whether to ourselves or others. Even if we disagree, or the other person is being a total ass. We begin by understanding that they/we are telling the truth as we know it, and out listening behavior honors that. Empathetic listening doesn't mean we are agreeing, so there's no reason to feel like we will lose the argument.
If saying, uh huh and nodding your head feels false, it helps a great deal to keep your gaze soft. The day you showed me what attentive listening looked like, your eyes were like lasers and it was uncomfortable for me. Subtle eye movement shows that thoughts and ideas are being taken in and valued.
He's asked me to review his paper proposal with your notes, which is very good. I hope that I can help him clarify his direction and interests. There is a great deal to respond to, and it' been a challenge for me also. I look forward to reflecting on how I can be helpful, and IF I am helpful.