I was keynoting on the Antimatter Principle at Agile Adria 2014 this week. As at all of the other conferences I have attended in the past year or so, I found myself feeling impatient with e.g. the hallway and dinner-table conversations, because I was feeling less connected with people than I would like. I also often feel that, amongst so many energised and experienced folks, we could be having great conversations of mutual exploration and import. Vital conversations – conversations full of energy, and life, and mutual joy. Yet we don’t seem to be able to make that happen.
At each conference, I’ve shared my feelings with one or two folks, without much in the way of ideas coming to mind.
This morning, I find an oh-so-simple idea has been staring me in the face, unrecognised, for months.
I’m speaking of this passage from an interview with Marshall Rosenberg:
SARAH: I was interested in an example you shared in one of your workshops about a group of teachers who were having a conversation that wasn’t feeding you spiritually.
MARSHALL: “Well, I was sitting around with a group of teachers who were all talking about what they did on vacation. Within ten minutes, my energy had dropped very low; I had no idea what people were feeling or wanting.
“In giraffe, we know it’s not being kind to the other person to smile and open your eyes wide to hide the fact that your head has gone dead. The person in front of you wants their words to enrich you, so when they aren’t, it’s helpful to be kind and stop them. Of course, in the jackal culture, this isn’t done.
“After listening awhile to the teachers, I screwed up my courage and said, “Excuse me, I’m impatient with the conversation because I’m not feeling as connected with you as I’d like to be. It would help me to know if you’re enjoying the conversation.” All nine people stopped talking and looked at me as if I had thrown a rat in the punch bowl.
“For about two minutes, I thought I’d die, but then I remembered to look at the feelings and needs being expressed through the silence. I said, “I guess you’re all angry with me, and you would have liked for me to have kept out of the conversation.”
“The moment I tumed my attention to what they were feeling and needing, I removed their power to demoralize me.
“However, the first person who spoke told me, “No, I’m not angry I was just thinking about what you were saying. I was bored with this conversation.” And he had been doing most of the talking! But this doesn’t surprise me. I have found that if I am bored, the person doing the talking is probably equally bored, which usually means we’re not talking from life; we’re acting out some socially-learned habits.
“Each one of the nine people then, expressed the same feelings I had – impatience, discouragement, lifelessness, inertia. Then one of the women asked, “Marshall, why do we do this? Why do we sit around and bore each other? We get together every week and do this!”
“I said, “Because we probably haven’t learned to take the risk that I just did, which is to pay attention to out vitality. Are we really getting what we want from life? Each moment is precious, so when our vitality is down, let’s do something about it and wake up.”
So, I now have a new avenue to pursue the next time I find myself feeling frustrated, impatient or disconnected. I’ll just have to remember to say something like:
“Excuse me, I’m impatient with this conversation because I’m not feeling as connected with you as I’d like to be. It would help me to know if you’re enjoying this conversation.”
Do you sometimes have the same feelings? How might this approach help you in similar circumstances? Could you find the courage to make such an interjection? How might you feel – and react – if someone else said something like this, to you?