I (Bob) have been receiving some feedback recently that hasn’t been the easiest to hear or acknowledge. What’s delighting me is that I’m noticing a big shift in my habitual patterns. Rather than becoming defensive, and pointing out where the other person might be missing some facts, or jumping to incorrect conclusions, I’ve chosen to simply accept the feedback and open up to see what it is that I’m being invited to learn about myself. As a result I’m able to stay in the present moment and not waste what used to be copious amounts of energy engaging in angry conversations and accusatory rants. All these happened in my head rather than out loud, so they were emotion-full and emotion-unexpressed – in other words a huge drain on my energy.
I can remember times as a child when my dad would tell me about something he didn’t like that I was doing and I would immediately start arguing with him that he was wrong. All this ever did was create more anger coming my way. As I grew older I learned to suppress my expression of these feelings so I wouldn’t get into trouble. I adopted a grin and bear it mentality, all the while believing I was right and they were wrong and that’s all there was to it. I refused to see these interactions as a learning opportunity – I didn’t even realize that was an option!
Not surprisingly, when I became a father I repeated this pattern with my daughters only this time I was right and they were wrong. And I still wasn’t open to learning from my interactions with them.
The natural consequence was that I kept having the same repeating relationship interactions. People would provide feedback, either through their words or their actions, and I would create reasons in my head why they were wrong and I was right. I can still recall an incident at a personal development training I was attending where the leader offered feedback through illustration after illustration and my response was, “You just don’t understand!”, to which her comment was something like, “Well, I guess you’re not open to receiving this as feedback!” This moment shook me deeply and I decided right then and there I needed to change, but how?
By that time I knew that the how wasn’t going to become clear until I was actually willing to commit to what I wanted – and I was willing. “I commit to being open to learning from every relationship interaction.” Now change didn’t happen overnight. I would slip back into my old ways, which I could see happening almost as fast as it happened. In these moments I would recommit and start again. Recommitting became my ally.
And through the committing and recommitting came more and more opportunities to turn my focus away from what someone else was or wasn’t doing (totally outside my control anyway) and onto what it was that I was being invited to learn (totally inside my control). Anger and self-righteousness were slowly replaced by curiosity and wonder. Energy draining mental rants were slowly replaced by energy enhancing discovery and delight.
So if you find yourself being defensive, like I was, and sometimes still am, and you want to become open to learning from every relationship interaction, then start with a commitment. The simple fact that you are aware of what you want and reaffirming your commitment whenever you slip will create the space for an opening to appear and your particular brand of “how” will present itself.
Watch out though, your life will never be the same!