Becoming more conscious
I’ve drawn upon my own experience for this series of posts, mapping out my favourite habits of speech. They’re pretty unassuming but pack some punch.
I feel like an excited child sharing her favourite playground – dashing from swings to slide to monkey bars. I’m neither claiming originality nor mastery: This isn’t just my playground! I’ve absorbed these habits and perspectives from myriad sources – social, psychological, professional and spiritual.
The common theme is noticing when I’m speaking with unconscious bias. When I’m projecting my opinions onto others and/or presenting my opinions as fact, it often causes stress and disconnection. If I can catch myself and own my bias I gain greater clarity and self-awareness.
Okay, let’s play.
I hear you.
The habit: Share what I’ve heard instead of telling others what they said.
I once saw this in a personal development workshop. People were sharing very deeply about their lives and experiences. Afterwards, everyone was invited to provide feedback or reflections. The facilitator invited us to use ‘I hear/heard’ rather than ‘You say/said’. The difference struck me immediately:
“You say you were often scared growing up, because your Dad could be violent…”
“I hear that you were often scared growing up, because your Dad could be violent…”
I saw how easily conflict or stress could arise from the first sentence. The person might even dispute them – “I didn’t say my Dad was violent!”. Whereas if someone shared what they’d heard there was nothing to dispute anymore. There was space for both perspectives.
I realised how often I project onto others. Not in a great dramatic way, but in a seemingly benign, everyday manner. Particularly at work and intimate relationships.
Every human is different: The world I experience isn’t the world you experience. It’s just my perspective, thanks to my senses, attention, conditioning, feelings and so forth. Not to mention my imperfect human memory! When I acknowledge my subjective perspective, I feel clearer and more authentic. There’s room for others’ ideas and experiences.
Habit: Use “I imagine…” when giving feedback.
How can I empathise and offer reflections without projecting? Here’s a suggestion:
“You must be exhausted, driving this project forward without exec support.”
“I imagine you’re exhausted, driving this project forward without exec support.”
It’s remarkably easy to label others’ experience in the name of empathy. I’ve found this phrase to be a little gem. And a perfect follow-up to the previous example: i.e. “I heard X. I imagine Y.”
Not only do I avoid making as many assumptions about the other person, but it fosters more genuine connection. It leaves more space to learn about others’ experience.