There are no two absolutely identical people. Even identical twins have differences, not to mention different life experiences. That seems obvious enough.
If everyone is different (different social markers, different life paths, different values, different cultures), it’s a wonder humans can communicate at all. But the focus of this post is not about the miracle that humans can communicate (that’s another story), so much as the beauty that we can learn from miscommunicating.
As the CEO of The Newfield Network, I have experienced that one of the most essential roles of being a good leader is the role of being present when the shit hits the fan.
When something doesn’t go the way we anticipated or envisioned when things take a turn for the worse… how do we show up? How do we engage in the challenging situation in a way that can potentially strengthen the relationship, the commitment, or the team?
In my experience, miscommunication is often one reason things don’t go the way we thought they would. I understood a phrase, a word, or an offer one way and the other person involved understood it differently. Each person being unique perceives, experiences, and interprets the world differently.
I’m a fan of harmony. I am sort of a middle child (the 3rd youngest of 4) and I prefer ease and smoothness over trials and tribulations. However, regardless of how much I tried to create a failure-proof organization, life outsmarted me over and over again. The reality is that life will always offer us a future blunder, mistake, or oversight.
Given this, I turned my attention to examining: How do we take care of our relationships, our concern, and the situation when miscommunication happens?
As leaders (and here is my working definition of leaders: Leaders are those whose presence, words, and actions inspire, motivate, and empower others to be in the world in service of goodness, truth, and beauty for all), how do we navigate these tense and upsetting moments?
After facing plenty of these undesirable, gut-wrenching circumstances, the first thing I began to recognize, in hindsight, was that these bumps were often bridges that enabled us to move into new territory. These moments of friction, when faced with care, deep listening, and compassion, were often gateways into innovation, new designs, and deeper ways of relating.
3 Ways to Move Through Miscommunication
After consciously encountering upset, here is what I discovered are three essential pillars for moving through miscommunication:
1. Care: By care, I’m not referring to just a momentary desired outcome or whim or attachment. By care, I’m referring to an awareness that arises when you listen reverently to your depth and recognize what you hold dear and what truly matters.
- What is it that you deeply care about in this given circumstance?
- What is it the other party cares about?
- Is there a mutual care, a shared outcome, or result to be obtained?
- A common concern to be addressed?
Being in contact with one’s deep care enables one to gain clarity regarding what is negotiable, what is a priority, what truly matters, and what doesn’t. It provides guidance for the conversations and actions to come. (Shout out to Bob Dunham who works extensively with this notion of care and invited me to reflect on the relationship between care and organizations.)
2. Listen: There are many ways to listen and many depths from which we can listen from. As mentioned above, contacting one’s own care requires a certain kind of listening. Often when we face a tense situation, we physically get tense: we contract, breath less, tighten and stiffen. Our senses tend to shut down. Our listening decreases. If we can instead soften, breathe, and open our hearts, we may find that our capacity to listen expands and our senses are reawakened.
When our heart is open and our senses are active we can begin to listen. We can begin to listen to other perspectives and can hear the voices of others as legitimate. We can actually receive, take in, and learn. What is this person seeing or experiencing that I am not? How does including this perspective allow for new possibilities?
3. Compassion: Compassion is a virtue. It is a virtue that is founded on understanding… specifically on understanding suffering. When we understand that every human being suffers in some way at some time, we have the bedrock for compassion but we don’t yet have compassion. For compassion to fully exist, we need to actually care that someone else is suffering. When we embrace someone else’s pain, as if it were our own within a field of love, that suffering is somehow transmuted. This is compassion. When we open our hearts and recognize that we are all connected, a desire to care for the good of all emerges. Compassion then can be understood as a meta-care.
Working with the Past, Present & Future
Once we activate the three principles of Care, Listening and Compassion, we can begin to address the miscommunication from the perspective of the present, past, and future:
How can I take care of the present?
- How am I showing up in this moment? What emotion am I in? Am I defensive? Angry? Is this emotion (or combination of emotions) serving the situation? Is there another emotional center from which I can engage that will better serve?
- Resisting the facts takes up a lot of energy. Even if I don’t like the situation, can I accept the situation enough to liberate my energy and use it to tend to the situation?
- What offers or requests can I and the other person make to mitigate the consequences of the current situation?
How can I take care of the past?
- Can I acknowledge a mistake I made, and can I take responsibility for how I could have participated differently?
- If so, I apologize. A sincere apology can help close a chapter and open a new one. Apologizing acknowledges our own humanity and invites forgiveness. Apologies also assist in taking care of the relationship.
How can I take care of the future?
- What insight did I gain from listening to the other’s perspective?
- What do I see that I can do differently in the future to prevent this from happening again?
- What change will I commit to in the future? What new course of action will I take to ensure that this breakdown does not repeat itself? What request will I make? What strategy will I implement?
- Is there something you would like the other person/party to do differently in the future? Is there a request you can make?
I have found that when we tend to each challenge with care, deep listening, and compassion while addressing the past, present, and future, we can co-create an environment of respect, and we can deepen our relationships. This allows each human to contribute their gifts… leading to a symphony of magic.
About the Author:
Veronica Olalla Love, M. Ac., NCC, PCC is the Global CEO for the Newfield Network. She is also an international facilitator for the Newfield Network Programs and is the lineage holder for the Newfield Network’s ontological coaching tradition. In her unique and passionate style, Love invites us to remember the depth of potential we have as evolutionary beings.
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