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Curiosity, Interest and Acceptance

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Honesty in Communication

Synopsis: Curiosity, Interest and Acceptance — the three things that keep a relationship fro going off the rails. And notice: no mention of controlling the other person! 

curiosity

Several issues ago I and proposed the following:

• I can only commit to an action — to something I will do. 
• I commit to being in relationship with you. Here is what I commit to: 
• I will be open, honest and vulnerable in my daily communication with you. 
• I will tell you, today, who I am and what I am thinking. 
• I will tell you, today, everything I have done, and what it meant to me. 
• I will listen to you with curiosity and interest, today. 
• I will accept that you are who you are today, and will integrate who you are today with my picture of you from “yesterday.”
• I will make myself fully available and present to and with you, today, and engage in clear and concise communication with you for not less than 30 minutes, today. 
• I will own all of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and interpretations, working to take full responsibility for each and every one of them. If I slip and go into blaming, I will stop myself, apologise, and return to self-responsibility. 
• I will actively encourage you to listen to me and to actively hold me to the performance of what I have committed to. 
• I will commit to all of these things, without any expectation of anything from you, as all I can ever commit to is to what I can and will do.


Today, we’ll look at:

• I will listen to you with curiosity and interest, today. 
• I will accept that you are who you are today, and will integrate who you are today with my picture of you from “yesterday.”


Curiosity, Interest and Acceptance — Sounds like an accounting firm, eh? 😉

Many people come back from workshops that teach communication, (ours, Haven’s, wherever) and think they have to use perfect communication all the time — that what they’ve learned is required behaviour in all situations. Then, they go about exhausting themselves, asking “curiosity questions” of the postal worker, the store clerk, the pimple-faced teen at the golden arches. 

I suggest less foolishness and more focus.

The truth is this: in a communication workshop, learning the process requires paying attention to everyone there; and then, practicing all the time. After all, the only way to learn is to practice, as good communication doesn’t come naturally.

Out of the teaching environment, I can only be deeply in relationship with one principal partner, and less deeply, or situationally, committed to a few other people. In other words, you need to pick and choose.

Situationaly,” however, allows me to choose to use clear and honest communication “all the time”; what I might choose NOT to do is “go deep” with the barista.

Darbella gets the most of me; indeed, she gets all I can give. This of course happens every time we are together, as that’s the deal we’ve made.

Back when I was counselling, I contracted to be present with, honest with, and interested in my clients, for their session time.

Beyond that, at the level of friends, my ability to be totally engaged with them drops off a bit. When a friend is in crisis, I choose full presence, but … 

what I’m saying is that, in general, it’s not possible to be fully open and present with a ton of people.

Long story short, about today’s points: this commitment is with one’s principal partner.

With this person, the list must apply fully and completely.


Curiosity is an interesting thing. Often, poorly trained communicators think curiosity means that others should be endlessly curious about them — about every detail of their life. This becomes the focus, and it is not reciprocal. This is the exact opposite of what curiosity is all about.

Curiosity is my internal process of comparing the experience I am having “now” with my experience of the person (or thing.) It is also my internal process of comparing what my partner is saying with what my partner is doing.

If, in the middle of my being curious (which is a process I’m engaging in internally — not just mouthing the word “curious,”) something is not clear for me, I may ask, “I’m curious about what you intend by your words or actions.” This is so I receive clarification for “disconnects” in my internal process.

Let me note that listening, being curious and commenting is not the same as judging.

Poor communicators think that curiosity is a sneaky way to get in a judgment or two. The question, above, becomes, “I’m curious as to why you behave so badly and are so stupid.” This is not curiosity — it is judgment.

Curiosity is also not carte blanche to offer unsolicited advice. I continue to work on not slipping on this one. 

Respect is one principle in Morita Therapy (a Japanese style of Psychotherapy.) A Morita Therapist never offers unsolicited advice. My nature is to pop off with the advice. Darbella has helped me to learn to be present without offering suggestions. Mostly, when Dar is having a moment, she wants me close, perhaps pushing Bodywork points, and mostly silent. I can do this, and I do do this, and I still make it hard for myself, as I’m sure my insights are “just brilliant.” Sigh.

Curiosity helps me to add data and experience to the “file” of the person (or situation) I’m with.

That’s the point of the second item on today’s list. My goal is to achieve a more and more accurate picture of the other person. This means that I must add and incorporate new data without judgment. (Hmm. Maybe the next issues ought to be on “non-judgment?”)

This is not the same as condoning stupid behaviour. I always have the right to leave a dysfunctional relationship or to refuse to participate in something I don’t “feel right” about. If I want a deep, full and meaningful relationship, however, I can not and must not create a “straw person” to tilt against.

So, I do not have a “here are all the things I’d change” list about Dar. We just celebrated 31 years of marriage and 33 years together, and I’ve never had such a list. What I have is a “here is Dar, as I know her today” file. It contains all that I know about her. There are elements in that file, behaviours that she does and I don’t, that I judge to be part of her and something I don’t do. 

What they are not is BAD.

I can never figure out people who endlessly criticize their partners (and then continue to criticize them after they divorce them, as if anyone cares.) I can never figure out people who blame their partners. Who put their partners down. Who mock or berate their partners either to their face or to others. I cannot understand why I would do that with the person I choose to spend my life with, nor can I understand what would give me the right to do this.

Yet, blame and criticism seem to be the linchpins of (crappy) relationships.

Here are two truths: 

First, your partner is exactly and precisely who they appear to be — how they act — (not who they say they are…) If who they are is troubling to you, the only two viable choices are acceptance or packing your bag and leaving. The third option, endless carping, manipulating, fighting — judging — is just stupid.

The second truth — you are not there to fix your partner. You can only fix yourself.

Your job is to work on yourself and to share yourself with your partner. And your partner, in a healthy relationship, does the same. Each step along the way, the task is to integrate my “new partner” (the new data) into my present picture or file. Period.

Get it?


Wayne Allen 

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web’s Simple Zen Guy.
Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013.
Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever.
See: The Phoenix Centre Press 

Honesty in Communication
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