When listening, it is extremely easy (and perhaps innate?) for us to look for, and find, ‘disconnects’. I know it is for me.
What do I mean by a disconnect? Some examples might be when we react to/ take issue with/ pick holes in/ disagree with what (we think) we are hearing1.
There will always be opportunities to find disconnects if we are looking for them.
Taking a simple view of a person-to-person interaction, we might consider four parts to each exchange within:
1. Intent: The person speaking has some intent (I’ll come back to this below).
2. Spoken: They will then attempt to ‘encode’ that intent into a form of words. However:
- their success in doing so will be heavily reliant on the person’s skill with language; and even then…
- a short, simple set of words can never accurately translate our full intent, even by the best orators amongst us.
It’s perhaps worth bearing in mind that, in the midst of a conversation, we don’t exactly give each other much time to ‘pick’ our words – and even less of a chance to go back over them to reframe or redact them.
3. Heard: The listener’s task is to hear the words being spoken to them. This would seem to be a simple job…and yet I expect most of you will probably agree with me that it’s not2.
The complexity of the ‘hearing’ task moves up several gears when there are many people involved in the conversation.
4. Interpretation: The listener will then attempt to ‘decode’ what they heard into what they think about it. In doing so, they can’t help but be ‘waylaid’ by lots of thoughts ‘flying around’ their heads (experiences, assumptions, biases, wants…).
It’s extremely easy for the listener, at the end of these four parts of an exchange, to respond with something along the lines of “But I disagree…”
…however, what am I disagreeing with?
- the intent?
- how it was spoken?
- how I heard it? or
- how I interpreted it?
These are very different things!
Of the four pieces in the exchange, it is often (usual?) that the intent is the least of the problem!
We can look at intent in two ways:
a) if the underlying intent is constructive, then we should be trying to bring this out and expand upon (rather than puncture) it; or
b) if there is some issue with the intent, then we should want to use the most effective way to surface and alter this, where this would be to help (invite?) the originator to do this for themselves.
I’d suggest that a) is the norm. People, in general, want to improve situations. This fits with the belief of the hugely respected psychologist Carl Rogers3 that people are, in their essence, healthy and good.
Turning to b): One of the fundamental principles within the work of Rogers is that of ‘Unconditional positive regard’, which is the concept of accepting and supporting a person regardless of what they say or do4.
A key point within Rogers’ life work is that we are all a continual work-in-progress, in “a constant state of becoming” and, as such, with greater acceptance and less unhealthy pressure/ criticism, we (you and I) are highly capable of growing and realising our potential.
To summarise: we would serve ourselves well to frame all interactions (whether at home, work or in our wider society) by assuming that the ‘other party’ has good intentions, or (if not in this moment) would want to have.
A constant battle
It feels rather glib to have written the above (i.e. ‘just work with everyone unconditionally and everything will work out’) because it’s easier said than done. We are human after all.
And so, to the title of this post – a ‘fight for connection’.
It is easy to find, and widen, disconnects.
Conversely, it is a constant battle (if we so choose to fight it) to attempt to create, and remain in, connection.
A first step might be an attempt to attune ourselves to noticing when disconnects are happening, and to ponder what’s going on…and to think about how we might connect instead.
We (by which I really mean ‘I’) will fail regularly (and probably spectacularly) but each connection ‘won’ feels good!
We need to constantly fight for connection (in our work and private lives), rather than allow the disconnections to appear, fester and grow.
A desire for connection should not trump authenticity. We should always choose authenticity over pretending to be someone we are not.
Connection requires both parties to fight for it. If one side refuses to connect, despite herculean attempts by the other, then sometimes this will mean ‘walking away’.
1. If you are in a face-to-face interaction, the disconnect may also come from and/or be exaggerated by what (you think) you are seeing e.g. some accompanying body language
2. On hearing: I had a job some years back that involved working in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. We would spend each day in Court and then the evening in Chambers preparing for the next day. We had the benefit of the day’s full transcript (i.e. written record) to work with. I was often amazed, when searching through the transcript, at:
a) what I thought had been said in Court during the day, but had not, and
b) what had been said but that I’d missed!
The differences were often quite subtle, and yet incredibly important.
3. Carl Rogers is a giant that I have yet to write about. I hope to fill this gaping hole soon. However, for the purposes of this blog, he was a giant within the field of psychology, with his person-centric (humanistic) approach.
Note: I am a novice when it comes to the work of Carl Rogers and so I’ve attempted to ‘go gently’ on what I’ve written so that I don’t butcher it too badly :).
4. This doesn’t mean accepting or ignoring their words and deeds. It means to accept the person underneath – and therefore that it is worth investing in helping them.
5. Source/ credit: I’ve been ‘working from home’ in COVID-19 lockdown for the last four weeks and this has given me the opportunity to watch a course on Udemy called ‘The Fundamentals of Skilled Helping and Problem Management’ with Gerard Egan and Kain Ramsay. This post is a write-up of a key reflection.
9 thoughts on “Fight for Connection”
Great article Squire. And pause for reflection.
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Hope all is well with you and yours
As always, good article Steve. I found myself reading it in the context of reflecting on some heavily biased blogs I’ve read recently on Covid-19, where the author and the handful of uninformed followers stroke one another’s egos with praise for being so right (no pun intended). Stay safe. Russell
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Yes, well….’What I heard’, and, ‘What I thought I heard’, and, ‘What I chose to hear’ is often impacted by whatever my preconceived opinion of you was in the first place.
An almost flawless bog post, I like it very much. Now I need to look up Carl Rogers: thank you!
Haha, I just happened to be re-reading this post and read your comment (properly this time!). I hadn’t noticed the typo – a belated thanks for pointing it out 🙂 I shall correct it…
Some beautiful distinctions elegantly made.
Another layer to this is that we can only “compute”, if you like, things that make sense. To make sense those things must both be able to get through the natural ‘spam filter’ in our unconscious brain – the Ascending Reticular Activating System – and also join up with something we already know/believe or value in some way. Then we start to determine what the meaning is to someone like us. Challenge comes in that all of this happens in fractions of a second then we get ready to reply. With so much going on unconsciously no wonder there is room for disconnect.
Then there is the related but different issue of how you react to what you interpreted. “Meanings”, they say, “are in people.” What, in you, triggered your response.
I listened carefully 😊 to your blog.
The idea that people are innately good is classic humanist dogma and imo dangerous as there are many many people out there who have intentions based on their own agendas which are not in other people’s interests and even might be harmful.
Or put another way person A’s interests do not necessarily have to aligned with person B’s interests and may be even opposed to them.
There are several ways to resolve this ranging from outright capitulation (which sometimes might be the right strategy) to outright violence (which sometimes might be the right strategy).
As always your articles are interesting and challenging.