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  • Gary Borland

#43 Relationships Start in the Mirror

Transforming relationships starts in the mirror. If you don’t appreciate being critiqued or judged, it’s unlikely that others do either.

We recently looked at how our own reactions can impact and damage relationships. Noticing how easy it can be to attribute blame to someone else when we’re having some kind of reaction is a great starting point to change how we interact with others. Research has pointed us at our brain’s capacity to store significant events in our life together with their associated emotions. Our brains seem to try to pattern match – matching what we see with what’s stored. Unfortunately, in some circumstances it doesn’t appear to be very accurate, but close enough to trigger a powerful emotional response. What they really seem to be saying is that our emotional and physiological reactions can offer us a very unreliable assessment of what’s actually going on.

But because our responses can be so powerful and impactful, the habitualised response is often just to react and assume malevolent or deliberately hurtful intent on the part of the other person. So, we respond from our own hurt or anger and unsurprisingly, little of anything good comes out of the interaction. Both parties go away believing themselves to be ‘right’ and the other person to be ‘wrong’, and for some people, they go away with an even more negative view of themselves. Either way, the human cost is enormous.

We touched on the idea of creating space for others by the way we act and behave. If we are able to notice our own reactions and create a bit of space for ourselves – perhaps by not responding immediately, then we are likely to be able to create a much bigger space for the other person and ultimately, for our relationships. What we’re really talking about is the introduction of choice. By noticing that I’m having a reaction, I can then choose what happens next. Here are a few ways in which you might open the space for someone, despite the reaction you’re having or have just had:

  • Ask questions – questions that demonstrate an interest in the other person. Being interested in what they’re interested in creates connection.

  • Try putting aside what you think you already know. That way, the questions give us an opportunity to learn.

  • There’s not much point in asking a question if we don’t listen to the answer. Really listening to someone takes practise and it’s likely that you’ve experienced poor listening from others on many occasions. Most of us notice poor listening in others, but rarely in ourselves! Focus on your own listening and you’re likely to notice that you often don’t listen well. To be listened to is to be known. To be known is to be cared about and loved. What transformations might be possible if we really chose to start listening fully and completely to the other person rather than reacting and trying to be ‘right’.

  • A significant part of listening are the filters we listen through. Try to identify what filters you use most. It might be a filter focused on utility– how can I use this? It could be focused on assessment – what do I think of that? Or perhaps correcting – I’ll tell you where you’re going wrong. There are many, many different filters. Recognising which ones you’re using and why introduces choice.

  • Build on what you have in common. Some people seem to focus on differences, perhaps pointing out where they believe others are going wrong. Consider that if someone want’s your advice, they’ll ask. Instead, focus on building one another in areas where you have things in common. There’s nothing wrong with disagreement, debate and differences of opinion. But when they start to impact or damage relationships, it might be worth asking – is there a more effective way?

You matter. Other people matter. Focusing on how we act and behave is likely to be the single most effective way of transforming a relationship. The history of your own life is unlikely to point you at many occasions in which critiquing others or pointing out how they should be thinking, saying or doing has positively built relationships. Start in the mirror and watch your relationships transform.


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