what we’ve got here is failure to communicate

listening SOMThis week, I wanted to share a deep, personal lesson that I’m in the middle of learning. It may be an obvious one to you. It’s even obvious to me, but I’m seeing it from a different angle.

Sometimes people just want to talk and to be heard.

I’m used to understanding this as the person who just wants to be heard, not fixed. Now I’m looking at it as the fixer.

Lately, I’ve had some ongoing instances where my communication style–of being curious, engaging, and seeking the truth–doesn’t really mesh well with others who take it as questioning their authority.

(I believe I’ve spoken about this before, or I may have written about this in a blog post I decided to jettison because it felt too close to home.)

I haven’t gone through this communication jam before in a long time. But at this point, I’ve come to loggerheads with at least a couple of people. And, at the time of this writing, silence seems to be the only way out. I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but the immediate outcome seems to be peace.

The typical conversation where this communication logjam occurs goes something like this:

  1. Someone says something pretty definitive and absolute for them, but I find factually wrong.
  2. I, not really believing in absolutes anymore, counters with some questions or with a statement that actually summarizes what they’re saying, but may have skipped a step or two.
  3. Defensiveness rises on their side, with a reassertion of facts, and I think I’m trying to get to a place of clarity or greater understanding.
  4. A polite, but not very useful, argument ensues. We’re talking past each other and not to each other. Condescension rears its ugly head because now, it’s about defending a position, or trying make a point, or trying to win.
  5. And because I hate arguing when there’s no purpose, I usually call it quits.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 if you’re a masochist.

Many times, my intention is to get people to clarify what they’re saying, to be even more true. It may be an editor’s default position, or just a well-worn character trait.

And I know it’s not easy to have someone challenge parts of who you are, especially as they are forming. It can be kind of obnoxious, I get it. It’s not fun to be interrogated, to be in my hot seat.

Where I End and You Begin

Here’s the real kicker: in my older age, I’m realizing how overly emotionally involved I am in so many things that really shouldn’t personally matter to me. It’s a little alarming as I start retracting and retreating from people’s lives and agendas.

So maybe I should give less of a fuck about what others believe, especially if it’s not harming me. And this has been part of a lifelong lesson for me–maintaining healthy boundaries.

And this lesson definitely gets back to my #CapricornProblems🐐 post. I may be completely right in how I see a certain situation or life event, but we’re all on our own journeys, learning things at our own speeds.

It is not my job to illuminate that path for everyone. And to even think that is beyond arrogant. I could stand to be a little more humble and focus that energy on helping myself!

And this is where my own Capricorn stubbornness can get in the way. It can be a little (OK, VERY) paternalistic. I want this person to see things the right way so that their lives can be better! But then they just sound wrong all the the time! 

It can honestly be deeply infuriating.

Also, it can be quite hurtful, especially if you get in a merry-go-round of arguments, and you never seem to get through to each other.

Maybe sometimes, it’s just best to not only end the argument, but end the relationship–or at least take a long pause.

It could be that this unique interpersonal dynamic has turned terminally toxic.

One reason could be is maybe the other person just doesn’t want to hear from you, and all you’ve done is try to hammer home your points to an uninterested party.

And that’s their choice, one I can honor and respect.

I may have control issues as a Capricorn, but the flipside is that I can’t be utterly detached from people either.

We do speak into each other’s lives. We need to.

There just needs to be some balance about my level of involvement.

Straining to Hear

Even without my being a perpetually strident know-it-all: if someone doesn’t want to hear what I have to say, then I can stop speaking.

I can listen more and get curious in other ways.

What is this person really trying to say? Maybe the execution wasn’t to my liking, but what’s the bottom line here for them? And even if they’re wrong, do I need to correct them?

As I learn and continue to extract myself from being overly concerned about other people’s lives, I know I can still be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

I can give more latitude and breathing room for people to just be–to be “wrong,” to be “right,” to be misguided, to be on the right track.

Bearing witness can be so much more powerful than giving (unsolicited) advice or input.

This lesson has been really acute on social media. I feel like a kid with what I’m about to say, because it seems really obvious, but I am clearly getting a late lesson.

A lot of people don’t actually want to engage. They may not even want to be heard. They just want to speak.

And this is where I’ve started to really disentangle myself. It seems rude, to ignore someone who is talking. But people do this to me all the time–I’m sure on social media and I’m definitely sure offline as well.

And, well–I could just be not someone’s audience, even if I’m viewing or hearing their words, even if we’re friends.

Even more–they may want the audience and advice of someone else. And that’s definitely not worth fighting over.

This has been a really strange and rough journey, to choose different ways to express myself and to show my care for others. And I don’t have this issue with everyone–actually, I have it with very few people.

But again, the lesson is that sometimes, before I get caught up in some neverending conflict, I have to remember that don’t have to give my two cents on everything.

Sometimes, people need to vent. They need to express themselves, to declare things about themselves.

Every word spoken or written doesn’t need my engagement.

Sometimes, people just want to talk and to be heard. 

If you liked what you’ve read, I’d love your support as a patron on Patreon. Tiers starts at just $1/month. 

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Thanks for your support! 💘

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