Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

A particularly challenging occasion for reflective listening arises when acrimony is directed toward us by persons with whom we are in a close relationship. A student once wrote the following to me: “One area that I find is very relevant for workshop participants …is the difficulty of doing empathic listening when a spouse or person very close to us is saying something that we totally disagree with. I once made great sacrifices for my wife and then she told me she didn’t like what I did and her reasons were totally uninformed. At that point I couldn’t imagine doing empathic listening. I was so upset I just screamed. It’s one of the most needed and most challenging times to do empathic listening.”

I replied: “I hear your challenge and frustration. It is relatively easy to empathize and reflect when the hostility, anger and resentment are directed toward some third party. When it’s directed toward us it is especially challenging to be sattvic, non-reactive, empathic and compassionate. It is particularly difficult in those instances, and also especially important. When we are able to notice our anger, pain or fear without giving our power to them, and to instead sincerely endeavor to understand the other person, before expressing what we want to say, we create the climate in these close and intimate relationships that we truly desire.”

At the start of the second day of a five-day seminar, a woman who was attending shared her experience from the previous night, after the first day of the seminar when we had covered empathic listening. “My son was in the bath and wanted to play with a particular bottle of liquid soap. I knew this soap would hurt his eyes and wouldn’t allow it. In the past this sort of scene would lead to an escalation of anger, affecting us, and the household, for at least a full day if not longer. ‘No, you can’t have it!’ ‘I want it!’ ‘I said no! Put it down!’ Instead I thought I’ll use the skills we learned that day in the workshop. ‘You’re really angry at mommy for not letting you play with that soap!’ ‘Yes, I want it!’ ‘I know you really wish you could have that bottle, and you’re mad at me because I won’t let you.’ ‘That’s right. I am.’ I couldn’t believe it. After about a minute the episode was over. His anger was gone, and we enjoyed each other’s company.”

Studies in labor-management discussions demonstrate that it takes half the time to achieve conflict resolution when all parties agree to accurately repeat what the previous speaker has said before responding. To do this requires sattvic consciousness, where we are attentive and sufficiently patient to mirror the other person’s statement, before saying our piece. Especially when we are in conflict with the other party, it requires substantial non-attachment to utilize reflective empathy and avoid roadblocks. Frequently in workshops I hear, “But David, using these techniques takes much longer.” My response is, “Yes, maybe it does. In the short run.” Sattvic communication may take longer up front. However, in the long run it avoids the anxieties and problems created by roadblock-filled tamasic and rajasic communication. For instance, we might spend more time in mirroring and empathic listening so that we understand an employee; his satisfaction though results in a more pleasant work environment where people want to stay. This in turn is likely to lead to higher efficiency and an increase in productivity.

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