What is about someone holding back their thoughts and feelings that frustrates us so much? We ask ourselves; ‘why don’t they share what is happening for them and what do they want or don’t want from us?’ We wonder what is prompting them to reply with one-word answers acting as if they can hardly wait to run out of the room and away from our conversation? What are they hiding? Is it about us? These are the questions that run through our minds when faced with the silence of another. Many of us can feel the other person’s level of tension when we are with them, even when they say little to nothing. When our ego doesn’t understand why the person is responding the way they are, it makes that response about us and something we did or didn’t do/say/have. It tells us this must be true, or the person wouldn’t respond to us this way. This is where we get caught in a limiting belief that is not true.
What if the other person was not responding to you, but instead responding to their own internal story where you are simply a character? What if they are simply pushing down their own internal fears by holding back what they are experiencing because they don’t feel safe enough to share it? Most of the time this hesitancy comes from an unconscious fear of being judged, silenced, shamed or controlled from a very early age. Yet that is what is going on with them and their response of silence is about them, not us. Why do we often make their response about us? Many of us have been trained to soothe, cheer up or take care of others as an unconscious strategy to get taken care of by them. It’s like a bargain we were born into and perpetuate in our relationships. When someone is holding back, we feel out of control and ineffective if we think it is our job to get them to open up or feel safe enough to connect. That is not our job. Our job is to simply honor them where they are, ask for what we want, say no to what we don’t want and honor the same for them without asking them to change to make us feel better. If we need specific information from them, we can ask for that while asking and honoring what works best for them as well.
I find what works well is approaching these folks by first doing what you want them to do – share about themselves without judgement or need to hold back their experience. First, YOU share how it is for you (facts and feelings), what is important to you, what you are learning, and what you are working on to move forward towards what you want. Let them do or say whatever feels best to them and accept it as the best they have to offer right now. Acknowledge whatever they do communicate so they can feel seen and heard. Drop expectations of how you think it should look and focus on what is workable instead. When they know where YOU stand, and feel you are not judging them for what they are doing and how they are doing it, you will increase trust and build the safety for these people to let you know what is on their mind. Or not. As long as you are not attached the outcome (them changing), then there is space for it to happen. Naturally.
How can you first offer what you want from others today?
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