Monday, September 15, 2014

Connection Before Content

I said I'd blog once a week but haven't done it.  A month later, I'm ready to post.  Maybe once per month is more realistic for this time in my life?  I'm in a season of learning, of integrating new skills and information.  The current theme is communication skills and emotional intelligence.

I've always loved to learn and I've always enjoyed sharing the information I learn simply because I'm excited and fascinated by it but also because I want to be helpful.  However, sometimes my enthusiasm for sharing information coupled with my social anxiety and sometimes clumsy communication skills meant that I rubbed some people the wrong way. 

For example, when I was pregnant with my now two year old, I attended Celebrate Recovery.  One evening after the session, a fellow attendee was sharing her upset about a recent diagnosis of mental illness in a grandchild.  I wasn't there for the beginning of the conversation, but had walked up and joined the group part way through.  She said something slightly inaccurate about the diagnosis.  I just happened to have read something related to that recently and oh so helpfully, or so I thought, piped up with my correction.

Much to my surprise, she exploded at me, calling me a know it all who always had to be right.  Then she stormed out.  I quickly fled too and cried most of the way home.  I just wanted to help, why couldn't she see that?  Was I really a "know it all?"  Once my hurt was purged, I quickly realized that I owed this woman an apology, and within a few days had done so.   The apology was accepted.

A few days later, one of our mutual friends who had been there said that maybe it was good that this had happened so that I could get a more accurate picture of how well I read people and how I come across to them.  That gave me something to chew on, but that time I didn't spiral into self-pity.  I just made a note of it: "Communication skills are something I need to work on." 

Since then, God has put plenty of opportunities in my life to learn and practice communication skills!  I began going through the application process to become a La Leche League leader shortly after the above incident, and the portions of the Leader Handbook on communication skills gave me some wonderfully useful stock phrases and approaches to sharing information that I've incorporated in every aspect of my life.  Then just this August I attended a MOPS leadership training conference and the topic was communicating well with moms in times of crisis and conflict.  We watched a video of moms roleplaying various difficult conversations with immediate feedback and tips for improvement from a counselor.  Finally, this past weekend I attended a day-long LLL training focusing on listening well and responding with empathy (and sometimes information) rather than giving advice.  Most of the training was active roleplaying between all the participants.

With all I know now, I can see exactly what went wrong that day after Celebrate Recovery.  First of all, it wasn't my conversation to barge into.  Second of all, I responded with information when all she needed was empathy.  Third and worst of all, I also embarrassed her by contradicting her in front of everyone.  No wonder she lost her temper with me!

"Connection before content" is the way the communication skills trainer put it this weekend.  Or as Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

It's been a journey to incorporate this skill into my interaction with other adults, but I'm starting to feel confident in it.  What has been more challenging has been to consistently apply it in my parenting.  I reap benefits when I do, but it's still so hard and I frequently forget!  This morning I came across this post at Abundant Life Children which has some great tips.

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