If You Learn One Thing…

Our guest blogger today is America’s favorite coach for adults, midlife and better, Barbara Waxman, who shares the one thing we all need to remember in any of our relationships.

One of my favorite parts of entering a new year is reconnecting with those people in my life who I just don’t regularly make time for.  Ironically, these are often the folks with whom I can really “dive deep” quickly.  These are some of the most important relationships in my life.  Did you ever notice that there are some people who you see every week but never seem to get past a certain point of sharing?  It always seems as though you are catching up on the plentiful but less important details of life.  Then there are others — I often find these are the friends I tend not to connect with enough — with whom I can almost immediately share intimate details of challenges and successes without feeling too vulnerable, too judged. 

I recently had that exact type of conversation with one of my favorite people in the world.  Stephanie called to reconnect over the holidays, as is our pattern.  She shared the story of this past difficult year — losing a parent, emotionally and financially supporting a son who had graduated from a prestigious university but had not yet found the job of his dreams, trying to determine whether she and her husband were going to stay together — my, it was a difficult year for her.  I found myself feeling guilty about not having been there for her and not having reached out to her.  I had been busy with my own family, work and volunteer commitments, and let’s face it, with life itself — but that is no excuse.  Initially I took up our valuable airtime apologizing for not being the friend I should be.  And then this dear, wonderful friend hushed me and told me the one thing I needed to remember.  I want to share it with you.

She told me that our relationship was as solid as ever.  She told me that she knew without a doubt that she could reach out and call me at any time and that I would be there.  She told me that one of the things she looks forward to all year is our “annual fireside chat.”  And that ours carries over the entire year.  She told me to remember that our relationship is reflected by the quality, not quantity of our conversations.

I’ve shared this story with some friends and clients.  More than a few have gently asked how to have those types of conversations.  I think the key lies in being present and in listening deeply.  That isn’t easy.  In fact, listening is much more difficult than speaking.  When listening, we are making ourselves vulnerable because we aren’t explaining/protecting our opinions and ways of being.  Here are a few tips:

1. Actively Listen.  There are two primary ways to know if you are actively listening: Are you thinking about how you will respond?  Are you multi-tasking?  If you answered yes to either of those, you aren’t listening.

2. Pull from the pool of shared meaning.  Repeat back what you have heard and make sure there is agreement before continuing on to another subject.  Ask questions and re-confirm your understanding.

3. Acknowledge and appreciate different points of view.  It’s important to remember that making different life choices does not mean that we believe that one is better than the other. Don’t forget as you listen to someone else’s story you might be exposed to ideas and ways of being that you haven’t considered.

By really listening to Stephanie, it became clear to me that if you learn one thing to bring into 2012, it is this: The conversation is the relationship.

Learn more about Barbara Waxman, her philosophy and coaching.

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