It is raining this morning- a slow, cold winter rain. There is no wind, just a quiet steady
falling of water from the sky. The ocean has melded with the horizon and there is a
constant grey that is interrupted by choppy, irregular waves. There must be wind further out on the ocean. I can hear the foghorn in the distance, calling out its signal every 10 seconds. It is a comforting sound that provides a consistent touch point, reorienting me to where I am.
The foghorn is an anchor- it is a familiar signal that gives me comfort. In part because it
is an indicator that I am near the sea- where I feel most at home; and in part because it
has a consistency and predictability that can be relied upon. Rain or shine, the sound in
the harbor rings out and wraps it mono-tonal arm around me. I have no fear of crashing
on the rocks in heavy fog or high seas knowing that there is a reliable indicator to help
with my navigation.
Engaging in conflict can feel like being tossed about on high seas. Improving our ability
to engage constructively is a continual process that pushes the boundaries of what we
know about our self and about how we enter into and respond to conflict with others.
Finding an anchor or touch point is useful when exploring this learning edge. The rise and fall of riding the waves of awareness can be disorienting, frustrating and at times
exhausting. This is particularly true when we are asked to steer between learning and
unlearning- reconstructing our self by tearing down our old thoughts and ways of being
to make space for a new deck, keel and main sail that we can use to move further out to sea.
Take a moment to create an image in your mind of the last conflict you were in. Were
there waves crashing on you from multiple directions?
•This guy is crazy- what he is asking for is ridiculous.
• I hate being yelled at- I can’t even hear what is being said.
• I don’t want to be taken advantage of, how can I stick up for myself?
• Is my face red? I hope I don’t start crying and look weak.
• I don’t have time for this now.
• I am not any good at dealing with conflict.
• It is not my fault and I can’t control what others do
• How can I get out of here?
• I knew this was going to go badly.
• The patient’s family has unrealistic expectations and they are taking it out on
me- that is not fair. I am doing the best I can.
• If everyone would just do their job and stop blaming others things would be
• Maybe this is not the right job for me after all...
Building on our strengths is a way of anchoring. Noticing what we have at our disposal
that works well when we engage with others gives us a starting point. I know that I am a good listener- I can listen to someone’s story and hear what lies in the space between the words. I am good at noticing body language, energy level, eye movements, and the level of emotion in someone’s voice. I am practiced at watching for discrepancies between what they say and how they appear. I notice how their story deepens when they are revealing the story from their heart rather than telling the story from their head. When I am present to the conversation, I can listen more deeply.
Listening is an anchor for me. I can return to listening whenever I feel at a loss for what
to do or what to say. I can use my listening skills to slow down a conversation, to
deepen my assessment of the situation, to pay attention to my own responses, to
expand my access to multiple choices. And from this place, I am able to stay engaged
even in the presence of rough seas and strong emotions. I am able to use listening as an anchor to return to when the conversation becomes difficult or the problem too complex to solve.
When I am listening fully, I can hear my own reactions and notice when my mind shifts
away from listening to the other person and floats toward problem solving or judging. I
can listen to my internal voices – the one that tells me to jump in and rescue this person from their angst; or the one that tells me to shut down and withdraw from the
conversation so I can conserve my own energy and stop the flow of negative energy into my body. Both are protective reactions, default modes that I recognize as familiar
Here is what it may look like to use reflective listening as an anchor:
• This guy is crazy- what he is asking for is ridiculous! (I am not able to give
him what he is asking for. I wonder what he really needs. I am noticing he
looks scared, afraid of something. I could ask him what concerns him.)
• I hate being yelled at- I can’t even hear what is being said. (As I listen to my
own needs, I realize that I need to ask her to speak more respectfully so that
I can really hear what this is all about. Otherwise I may get back in her face or
just shut down and that will not get us anywhere.)
• It is not my fault and I can’t control what others do. (I can hear myself
getting defensive, wanting to blame others for this situation. That is just
what he is doing to me right now! How can I shift away from a protective
stance and listen more fully to the bigger story here?)
• I am no good at conflict. (I am uncomfortable with unpredictable situations
and emotional situations feel unpredictable. I can’t fix this and I feel
incompetent- I want to look like I know what I am doing. I am good at
connecting with others- maybe if I focus on connecting rather than the
conflict, things will shift here.)
• Maybe this is not the right job for me after all. (I am tired and it is hard to
find the energy to stay with this conflict right now. Is it the job I want to
leave or just this conversation? What is real for me right now? How would I
feel after I’ve had some sleep?)
What do you notice in the reflective listening examples? What helps you be able to listen both to the person in front of you and to your inner dialogue?
How can you practice acknowledging that voice and making a choice in the moment?
What is your anchor? What enables you to stay engaged without veering off course?
What is a strength that you bring that could serve as a touch point to help you orient
yourself when things feel chaotic or unpredictable?
Your anchor may be a skill, like asking good questions, or it may be a quality you
possess, like compassion or empathy.
Make a list of your anchors. What keeps you from crashing on the rocks?
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