Part of the difficulty we experience as humans is that we tend to react to every little thing that comes in front of us. We label it, we judge it, we classify it, we like it, we dislike it. This alone creates a lot of turbulence in the mind.
Then, we add people to the mix! When people speak to or even near us we think we have to respond. I see a lot of this on social media. I also see it causing daily pain in the dental office in our interactions with staff and patients. You don’t have to react to everything. Taking a little time to choose what is worthy of response makes everyday life a lot more pleasant.
Our freedom and our power in life come from choosing our responses. When we live in a reactive state- reacting to every stimulus – the world around us and the people in it have a lot of power over us. We give our environment, including other people, our happiness. This allows them to give happiness to us or take it from us at their whim. When we realize that we don’t have to react or respond to every little thing, we can take back control and live in a state relatively unaffected by the mess swirling around us.
In my last post, we learned the importance of mindful listening. Listening mindfully allows us to deal with what is real more fully and in a way more satisfactory to all involved. After we listen, we must choose a response, and sometimes the best response is no response.
The first tool in responding mindfully is “The Three Gates.” I first learned this from my teacher, davidji, in his book Destressifying. It boils down to just because you think something doesn’t mean you have to say it aloud. So before we speak, we ask ourselves:
Is it TRUE?
Can you verify this is fact? Is it a thought derived from a strong emotional reaction? Do you know it personally or did you hear it from someone else? Is it gossip? If you don’t know the thing to be absolute fact, verifiable and true – it goes no further. If it is true, we go to the next question.
Is it KIND?
Kindness is King in conscious communication. When we’ve been triggered emotionally, take a breath and step back until that charge dies down. No one benefits from unkind words. Of course there are things in life that need to be spoken that are unpleasant, like firing or correcting an employee, or giving a patient a difficult diagnosis. It is absolutely possible to fire someone, correct them or give them bad news with compassion. Once we have the kindness angle figured out, we ask ourselves:
Is it NECESSARY?
Often we speak just to fill the silence. Ask yourself: Is it useful? Does it add value? Is it worth putting time and energy into this idea and introducing it into the world? If it doesn’t, LET IT GO. A lot of energy is wasted (and drama created) on things that add no value. Sometimes the silence cannot be improved upon.
The second tool to employ when choosing a response is the concept of defenselessness, or relinquishing your need to be right. A huge amount of stress is created when we try to force people into seeing things our way. Most of the time, defending your point of view only increases the defensiveness on both sides of the conversation. Tensions increase and relationships are damaged – often irreparably.
Think of the patient that doesn’t want to do the treatment you recommend. How much energy are you going to expend trying to convince them? Is it worth your time and effort? We absolutely have to tell them what we see and what we recommend. We should also answer any questions that they have. When they reject our recommendation, continuing to defend your point of view only creates tension. It can start to sound like you don’t have confidence in your recommendation. I tell them what I see, what I recommend, I answer their questions and then I pull out. “I’m here when you’re ready.” The decision after that is theirs and theirs alone.
You can apply this concept of defenselessness to all of your relationships – professional and personal. My friend Alan Mead often says, “Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?”
Being defenseless does not mean that we never make a request in a relationship. It also doesn’t mean we don’t make an effort to share ideas and knowledge. When there is something that we need to address, we do that. We do it defenselessly. We do it not out of the need to be right, but out of a desire to bring greater happiness. We do it with nonviolent communication – which is the lesson for next time!
Be sure to read part one of Dawn’s series on conscious communication. It’s called “Are You Really Listening.”
Dawn Kulongowski is the owner and sole practitioner of a thriving dental practice in Michigan, where she lives with her husband, daughter and 2 dogs. She is the owner and teacher for The Peaceful Practice LLC, specializing in teaching meditation practice, mindfulness and conscious communication skills to health care and legal professionals.