Has this ever happened to you?
You’re having a conversation with someone and suddenly, without noticing it at first, you find yourself feeling a bit defensive and notice the other person seems to be resisting or countering what you are saying?
You notice a bit of charge in your voice, and it seems like the volume has noticeably increased. You start to feel attacked and find yourself listing off “supporting points” so the other will understand what you’re saying. Yet, every word that comes out of the other’s mouth seems intended only to support their points or feels like an attack on yours. You notice you respond in kind. It feels—metaphorically—like they are pushing you and you observe, somewhat reluctantly, that you are pushing back.
“What’s wrong with them?” you start to wonder. Why can’t they understand [my point of view]? It’s so obvious [to me]. The volume increases. Tensions rise. You find yourself digging in. Thoughts that you may not be consciously aware of at this point start to influence your response: [“I’ll make them understand me. I’ll show them I’m right. And if they don’t concede that I’m right, I’ll make them regret it!”].
If this cycle continues (and it often does), there will be hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and perhaps a permanently damaged (or even terminated) relationship. This scenario can play out with anyone with whom we interact: a complete stranger or our most intimate partner; those we work with or family members; those we perceive to be radically different from us or like-minded members of our “tribe.”
Now imagine this.
The same scenario starts innocently enough but this time, as soon as you sense that first bit of resistance; as soon as you feel that first twinge of needing to defend your position; as soon as you think, “They’re not listening to me.”
Stop and take a breath.
Hear yourself say, “Tell me more.”
Let go of the need to be right and embrace the desire for understanding and compassion. Imagine the reaction of the other upon hearing you say, “Tell me more.” Perhaps the facial expression shifts from one of growing anger and aggression to one of surprise or even confusion. Imagine the shift in their thinking from defense and attack to, “Wait. Are they asking for me to elaborate? Are they actually listening to me? Does this mean they are interested in what I have to say?”
And so, they do, in fact, tell you more. Perhaps with a bit of apprehension, not sure if you are seriously interested in their views and needs. But you stay with it. By prioritizing your connection with this other human being over your need to prove your point, you have created a container in which listening and empathetic response is possible. Now imagine that having honestly listened to their perspective and concerns, you do, in fact, feel more compassion for them and they, in turn, are more willing to listen to you.
There are, of course, no guarantees.
Human communication can be complex influenced by many factors that may be beyond our awareness. But the simple phrase tell me more breaks a pattern that tends to play out destructively and opens a doorway to possibility. The power lies not in the specific phrase itself but rather in the willingness to listen to another and acknowledge their experience and needs.
Now, for your homework.
Don’t just imagine it. Go out and practice it.
Peace, blessings, and joy.