I was 12 years old, facing certain death…
At 12, I was a geeky, nerdy, scrawny guy who was always being picked on by the school bullies. During lunch breaks, I took refuge in the computer room and by befriending girls (girls don’t try to beat you up for being a geek).
So, when my parents told me I was going to an all boys high school, I was terrified!
In fact, my first few weeks at high school were spent hiding from the big boys, who seemed delighted to flush “new boy’s” heads down the toilet – literally.
Hope of being socially accepted came in the form of an old, dusty book on my Dad’s bookshelf: How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
I devoured it in a few days and over the course of the next 3 years, went from being an outcast to one of the most popular kids in school.
What was the secret communication skill I learned that caused this transformation?
Be genuinely interested, rather than interesting
An interesting person TALKS about themselves and pretends to listen while thinking about what to say next.
An interested person ASKS about the other person and LISTENS curiously with the intention of understanding the other person’s message.
In other words, take the focus off you and your needs and wants and shift it to your partner.
You’ve probably heard that before, right?
So let me ask you this:
When was the last time you were so deeply interested in your partner’s wants, needs, and values that you invested an hour with the sole intention of learning more about them?
If you’re like most couples, then the answer probably is: “I can’t remember when.”
THE SCIENCE OF ME ME ME
As far as your brain is concerned, conflict = a potential threat to survival.
So when we fight, our brain’s singular focus is survival. In other words, it goes into ME ME ME mode.
And two people in ME ME ME mode cannot ever create a WE.
HERE’S MY STORY…
Even though being interested kept me alive through high school and elevated my social status from nerdy geek to cool kid, I somehow seemed to forget this important distinction when my partner and I began fighting.
My focus was on getting my needs met first and getting my point of view across to her.
This didn’t work…
It took me 6 months of being intensely interested in her world and her experience before she began to feel like I understood her.
I was a man on a mission to discover what she wanted, how she thought, how she experienced the world, how to make her feel safe, how to make her feel loved and make her feel attracted to me…
Eventually, my efforts paid off and I remember her saying, “Bruce, nobody understands me as you do. I want to spend the rest of my life with you…”
Being willing to take the focus off ME and be interested in each her, created the space for a new WE to emerge – a relationship where both of us felt known and valued by each other.
HOW TO BE INTERESTED RATHER THAN INTERESTING
Fortunately, communication skills for couples are easy to learn.
The hard part is remembering to use them – especially when you’re in the middle of a heated argument!
Being interested requires TWO skills:
- Being able to speak in a way that invites your lover to share
- Being able to listen curiously with the intention of understanding the communication.
Master them and you’ll be able to open your partner’s heart and have them melt like putty in your hands, even in the heat of emotional boxing match.