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The Energy Coach: Theo: Our Core Emotional Need
Our core emotional need is to feel secure and valued. Events that threaten this security seem intolerable, so much so that we become preoccupied, squandering our energy trying to restore our sense of value. It is as if we are drowning, desperately trying to get our head above water.
It has been life-changing for me to consider the notion that holding people’s value is at the heart of every interaction. I recently had a profound experience with my eleven-year-old son that reinforced for me how powerful this phenomenon is in our lives.
My son, Theo, recently had to have an outpatient procedure to remove a small growth on his lip. We arrived at the hospital and were told that the doctor was running late.
Two hours later, we were finally ushered into a small room where the procedure was to take place. Theo entered the room calm and fairly happy, despite the two-hour wait.
Finally, after waiting another 45 minutes, the doctor entered. After examining the growth, she announced to Theo that she had to “slice it off and burn the area to prevent reoccurring growth.”
His eyes welling with tears, Theo asked politely, “Can you tell me what you mean by ‘burn’?”
Without a response, the doctor left the room again and did not return for another half an hour. Now, Theo’s anxiety and impatience began to rise rapidly. He complained about how long it had been, how insensitive the doctor was, how the service was terrible. If he had known it was going to be like this, he told me, he never would have wanted the growth removed.
My own sense of irritation and anxiety were rising right along with Theo’s. I was annoyed with the doctor for her tardiness and her poor bedside manner, and I was beginning to feel aggravated at Theo for what was beginning to feel like incessant complaining. I observed myself wanting to tell Theo to be quiet. I was losing my patience.
Then I remembered that it was simply about him not feeling secure and valued. I began to look at the situation through what we call the “Reverse Lens,” putting myself in his shoes in order to better understand his point of view.
Even though it often feels counterintuitive, one of the most effective ways to help another person feel secure is to first let him know that you hear him, you see him, and that you understand him, even if you do not necessarily agree with him. One way to do this is through a technique called mirroring.
Mirroring is reflecting back to a person what you think he is communicating and how he may be feeling.
Instead of doing what I felt compelled to do, which was yell at him to be quiet, I took a deep breath, bought some time, and re-enlisted my rational brain to make a more conscious choice.
Then I said, “Theo, if I am understanding you, it sounds as if you are furious that they kept you waiting so long. You don’t think you have received good service and if you had known it was going to be like this, you would have lived with the growth on your lip. You want me to promise never to come to this doctor again. Have I got it right?”
“Yes, Mom,” he replied. “Only worse than the way you said it.”
It was almost magical what happened next. Once he felt seen, valued, and acknowledged, he was able to relax. That was enough. I did not solve anything. I didn’t even tell him I agreed with him. I simply showed that I was listening and that I understood him, and that was enough to restore his sense of respect and value.
The next time you find yourself in a conflict, or a difficult interaction, think about the issue of value. Make it your first priority to let the other person know you are trying to understand him. Then let us know what happens!
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Thank you, Annie, for the powerful reminder that all too often I forget to really see, hear and understand the person right in front of me!
by Ann Strong
@ 2010/11/22 03:08:30 PM
Annie, Brava for having the presence of mind to take the deep breath and not go with your first impulse. I struggle with that - sometimes I even get it right ! This also goes back to Covey's Habit 5: "Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood."
@ 2010/11/16 11:11:21 AM