PNDC Stories about Couples & Comments From Sharon:
I believe that a crucial way for people to begin to take in what it means to use Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is to read stories about how people have actually used it in their own lives. I built my book around stories, even to the extent of putting in an index that has every story in the entire book listed in it. Unless permission was given to use someone's real name, they have been changed to protect individual privacy.
Send us your own examples if you like and we'll consider publishing them, with an alias, unless you wish to have your own name on the story.
1. A Conflict over Answering the Phone During Dinner
2. Late or Not? That was the Question.
2. A Conflict Over Answering the Cell Phone at Dinner
A Story from Caroline
My husband, Gary, is in a position where he has to be available to the phone, at least to some extent, but not to the degree that he does it. He is checks his messages on the phone and on both of his computers all the time — to the point that he has no life without being attached to technology. After I took a workshop on non-defensive communication, I realized that I can't just nag and boss him into being who I want him to be, so I decided to take one part of the issue, and try some non-defensive communicaiton.
One of the biggest issues for me is that he always answers the phone while we are eating dinner, so I started with that. I told him that I had heard him saying that he loves me a lot and wants to be close to me and at the same time, he answers the phone regularly during dinner. I said it seemed to me that he was prioritizing answering the phone over our relationship, especially since dinner has always been one of the times we have traditionally had wonderful conversations and it made me feel hurt. I said that if he continued to answer the phone during dinner, I would feel less close to him. I said all of it in a pretty soft way, not harsh, and didn't make any effort to try to convince him to change.
The next time we had dinner, he turned his phone off before he sat down! And he hasn't answered it at dinner, not even once since then. Then last night, he told me what a difference he felt, just having this time together without any interruptions. I keep thinking how long I've tried to get him to stop answering it. Unbelievable.
Comments & Tips:
Caroline's Statement: Caroline used all the parts of the position statement. She told Gary what he had said about wanting to be close, what he was doing that contradicted his intention, by always interrupting their dinner with calls, and what her conclusion was, that he was prioritizing the calls over their relationships. Then she said how it made her feel, which was hurt.
Caroline's Prediction: Next she told him what impact it would have on her if he continued to take calls at dinner, she would feel less close.
Tips: If Caroline had sounded harsh or judgmental, if she had used either her statement or her prediction of how she would respond to his choice to answer the phone, she would have fallen into the trap of trying to convince him to change, and/or guilt tripping him. Either would have the opposite effect, making each of them feel more alienated. Instead she made her statement more like telling a story, without any agenda to make him change. Likewise, when she made her prediction, she did it without coersion, just stating it, as she said, in a soft way. The impact was that he was didn't get prompted to react in a defensive, unthinking way. Instead, he was able to to think through what he really wanted and make a commitment to not let his drive to answer the phone get away with him during dinner. As a result, both Caroline and Gary regained a time to share without interruption.
When we dont' try to get others to do what we want, but we are clear in our feedback, as well as about the impact that the person's choices will have on us, others are more likely to make decisions that enhance their own capacity to make wise choices.
2. Late or Not? That was the Question.
A Story from Iris & Trevor
During one of my PNDC workshop, Iris and Trevor were working to resolve a conflict about Iris not being ready ontime when they were going out. Trevor said it's always been important to him to be on time so he gets anxious and irritated they are preparing to go somewhere and then pressures Iris to hurry. She expressed her own irritation about his reactions, saying something like:
"If it were true that I'm late, that would be one thing. But I'm not late. I am organized and always on time! Trevor keeps worrying about something that never happens!"
Trevor defended the legitimacy of his concern; their initial conversation mirrored the history of their interactions on this topic.
I then provided Iris with several possible questions she could ask Trevor, and modeled asking them in a relaxed, non-defensive tone. She was dismissing each of my suggestions, then suddenly frowned, was very still for a moment and then lit up with an idea of her own.
She asked Trevor in a neutral, gentle tone, "Is it the way I pace myself, jumping around from one thing to another, while I'm getting ready that makes you think that I will make us late?"
Trevor pulled his head back, squinted, and stared at her a minute. Then, haltingly he spoke, "Well . . . I guess so . . . but now that I think of it . . . you are . . . always on time."He shook his head, as if in disbelief of his own words.
Iris looked incredulous and her mouth fell open. After a moment, she said, not in irritation, but in a tone of awe, "This has been an issue for 14 years, and it's the first time you've ever acknowledged that I am on time."
Post Workshop Interview:
Iris, a therapist, and Trevor, a computer consultant, are friends of mine, so after the workshop we had dinner together. I asked if I could do a sort of informatl interview with them to find out more about their reactions. They agreed.
Sharon: What did you experience when Iris asked you that question?
Trevor: I experienced an incredible second of total disorientation because her question went straight past my ego. It went straight to my heart.
Sharon: Did you feel a loss of power, or gain, or something different?
Trevor: I felt a gain through self-understanding. I had just been handed a gift. In that one second I got a sense that we are spiritual beings all connected at some level, like a huge internet. Speaking this way creates a direct connection, without all the interference. I couldn't defend against it. I couldn't attack it. The fortress wall came right down. I sensed that this went to the place where my essential being is. Iris was not coming from any ego or agenda. She asked a pure, simple question. It was magical today.
When we're so defensive, it's as if we are acting out a play; assuming a role, a costume, and this (being non-defensive) is like dropping all that and becoming the real people who are discussing the play. Her question didn't feel like it came from the Iris I know. The defenses and the insecurities. If we are spiritual beings, then maybe during our lives, our defenses hang on us like costumes. That's what gets in the way.
Iris: I realized if I had made a statement first about how I am on time, or that you don't need to worry, then I'd be so pulled into my own point of view that I'd see you as being unfair and feel victimized by your anxiety. Then, using your metaphor, I would have dropped into "character," in our own ongoing play. The question freed me from the old role, the old character.
Trevor: Even with all I've just said about it feeling spiritual, What I like about this [PNDC] is that it so down to earth and practical. I just thought, "she's right, we do get there on time, I don't need to worry."
Iris: And I just couldn't believe how simple it was. One single question. And he just went, "Oh, yeah, that's right. You are always on time." Unbelievable.
Trevor: It's shocking to think I could argue about this off and on for 11 years and never even get to where I actually absorbed the fact that we are not late, because we were both so locked in power struggle. Before, I was so defensive, I couldn't hear. And you weren't attacking when you asked me that question; it disarmed me completely
Comments & Tips:
Picking the "right" Questions: When I made several suggestions to Iris for questions she could ask, and Iris dismissed them, I have to confess I felt a little frustrated. I thought they were good questions and in many cases they might have been. But as Iris dropped her own defenses she became open and curious, her intuitive awareness was freed, and it lead her to a question that went straight to the core of the issue.
Iris said the instant that she relaxed into curiosity, a lightbulb went on. She realized that Trevor is very linear and he saw her style as being scattered — jumping back and forth between different activities, including some that he didn't think were necessary — so he had no way to evaluate how close she was to being ready. Iris, on the other hand, trusted her way of organizing herself and knew she would be ready. It was her processfor getting ready that was so stressful for Trevor. His worry about being late every time they got ready to go somewhere translated into the feeling of always being late. Where the hands on the clock were when they walked out the door had nothing to do with it.
The Curious Question Can Prompt Genuine Consideration of the Issue & New Insight: When Iris asked the question about whether it was her process that made him believe they would be late, he recognized that as the real issue. I find that often, when I move out of defensiveness and power struggle, and genuine curiousity takes over, the right question just pops into my mind. Often, it is one that had never occurred to me before.
Quantum Leaps: Trevor took what I call a "quantum leap" in understanding the source of their conflict. Such quantum leaps are often preceded by a frown or squint, a pulling back into a moment of dead air stillness that happened for each of them. I believe that small space in time is often necessary in order to adjust our vision so we can redraw our map of "reality."
At the same time, Iris also took a quantuum leap. She suddenly understtod that she didn't have to actually be late for Trevor to have the experience of her being late — because the whole time she was getting read, he was worried about being late. It was one more way in which their differences in how they process information and life, got in the way of gaining the understanding needed for resolution.
What amazed Trevor, Iris, and the rest of the group was how our defensiveness can lead us to consistently react without really thinking, even when the same dynamic repeats itself for years! The power of a single question to transform such conflict into understanding never ceases to amaze me. And I loved what Trevor said about the process being so simple and practical, yet having the potential to take us to such a deeper level of connection that touches the spiritual essence of our humanity.
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