A series of monthly relationship practices by Jill Weinknecht Wardell, Training and Development Specialist, Training and Organization Development department
Wellness not only applies to individuals but to relationships as well. What are healthy relationships? Healthy relationships are those that are capable of movement, transformation, and change. The way you cultivate healthy relationships is by putting practices into place that raise awareness and create new possibilities for you and/or your partner (whether it be a supervisor, colleague, friend, or loved one).
A practice is something (an action, words, or way of being) that you intentionally put into place in order to create or forward positive change. You may choose to practice for the sake of another without them knowing it or if you have an interested and/or willing partner, you may enroll them to practice with you. Either way, it is important to pay attention to how the quality of the relationship shifts over time.
We forget that just as we are capable of change, relationships too, are capable of change. Nothing is the way it is things are the way we design them to be. Practicing helps us reclaim our role as a co-creator of our design. Even if our partner is not willing to practice with us, we can create a sense of peace and well being in ourselves and likely change the course of our relationship simply by choosing different ways of seeing, being, and acting.
Relationships serve not only the two people who are involved but a larger network as well a department, work colleagues, family, friends, and the community. For the sake of these extended communities and their well being, we need to tend to our relationships to ensure that they are healthy and functioning, providing internal as well as external support to us and to those whom we serve.
Keeping a practice log is one way of tracking progress. It is not meant to be a journal and need not be lengthy. The intention is to succinctly focus on the following:
January 12, 2009
Practice: Notice the difference between phenomena (what actually happened and observable through the senses) and story (my interpretation of it).
Today, on my way to the office, I said hello to a colleague who did not say hello in return. I immediately noticed my shoulders raise and tense up, my breathing halt, and a feeling of resentment well up. I began creating a story about how rude she was to ignore me, assuming that she had. I remembered my practice and became curious about what other stories and other possibilities might be true. Possibly she didn't hear me or maybe she was caught up in an assignment. As I imagined these stories to be true, I felt my breathing return to normal, a spaciousness return to my posture, and a feeling of peace return. I was able to let go of my truth and any resentment I felt toward this colleague.
The practice of mirroring is a commonplace technique used in cultivating active listening in relationships. There are several ways to mirror. You can mirror non-verbally by reflecting back subtle facial expressions, or the body posture of your partner. This can be effective at times when emotions run high and compassion is needed. Another form of mirroring can be used in verbal communication while listening. You do this by verbally stating to your partner what you heard him/her say. There are times when it’s effective to mirror back word-for-word what you hear, for example when repeating back instructions given to you. However, in most cases, it’s better and more natural to use mirroring to paraphrase what has been said. This can be very powerful for our partners to know that they are seen and heard and often this process allows for clarity and insights that otherwise might not occur. After mirroring, it’s important to check in for agreement to provide space for clarification, e.g., “Did I understand you?” or “Is that accurate?” An extra gift of listening can be the follow-up question: “What else?”
In the month ahead look for opportunities to practice mirroring as you listen to your partners. This practice might feel a little awkward at first but in time, you’ll find your own language and way to mirror that’s natural. It’s important that you be sincere with using this technique, otherwise your partner can feel manipulated. Where time allows, ask the follow-up questions: “Did I understand you?” and “What else?” Notice how the gift of deep listening is received by your partner and how it deepens your relationship as a result.