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Ted said, "Becky, I want to talk to you about something."
by Marlena Field

Curiosity builds relationships; interrogation builds defences
- Whitworth,  et al - ‘Co-Active Coaching’

Ted and Becky were sitting at the breakfast table when Ted said, “Becky, I want to talk to you about something.”

Becky’s heart started beating faster and she gave a tentative “Okay”.  In her head she was saying ‘Oh damn, here he goes again.’  She had heard these words before and things hadn’t gone well.  She knew she was feeling defensive before she had heard what Ted’s request was about.  Underneath Becky was afraid.

Ted was also feeling apprehensive and wasn’t sure how to begin.  He was worried about how this conversation would go.  He felt helpless and angry about bringing his dilemma up again;  Becky so far had been unreceptive to it.  At the same time he didn’t want to bombard her with his feelings like he had done in the past.  He invited her to sit in the living room with him, hoping that a change in location might set a different tone.  Becky thought, ‘I knew there was trouble brewing.’

Ted began, “Becky, I know we’ve tried to discuss this before and it doesn’t seem to get settled.  My feelings about this just won’t go away.  I don’t know what to do.  I still want to reduce my work to half time and go back to school.  I want to be more creative and have more meaning in my work life.  I know it will stretch us financially.”  He paused for a moment and then summed up with, “Wanting to make a change in my work life keeps pressing in on me and I want to do something about it.” 

Becky crossed her arms and felt her jaw tighten.  She said nothing.  Ted asked her, “What are you thinking?”  Becky answered, “It still sounds selfish to me.”  Ted felt the back of his legs tighten and his stomach churn.  He didn’t know what to say and so remained quiet as he fought an urge to get up and leave.  Neither of them was breathing and they seemed suspended in a silent and tense void.

Becky still felt like arguing with Ted about how they need the money.  She was thinking, ‘How could he do this to me?  Doesn’t he understand that this was not what I bargained for?’  She didn’t want to hear about it any more.  She just wanted the whole thing to go away.

Then Becky began to realize that she was reacting defensively.  She knew from past experience that with this attitude she was betraying herself.  Also, holding onto this attitude was going to increase the likelihood that they would remain in their usual rut.  Nothing would be resolved.  With this realization she had another option; she could respond differently.

Becky could be more openhearted.  She could choose to be curious and to listen; to remember that Ted and his feelings were important to her. She could listen to more than Ted’s words and hear beneath them his deeper thoughts and feelings.  She also knew it would be important for her to give Ted her full attention and not formulate what she was going to say next while Ted was speaking.  This would help her not to interrupt. 

Becky also knew that to be true to herself she needed not to give up her own present position.  She didn’t need to try to change her mind before she was ready nor try to change Ted’s mind.  Becky decided to put her own concerns ‘on hold’ while Ted was speaking.  Becky finally said, “I’d like you to tell me more.”  It came out authentically because she was more openhearted; she really felt curious.

Ted spoke about his deep and long-standing desire to be more creative and have more meaning in his work life.  He spoke of having not felt fulfilled in his current work for a long time; how he had tried to make the best of it in spite of his discontent.  However, he really wanted to create something different. Ted went on to share how he too had concerns about the financial impact.  As he spoke, Becky could hear Ted’s longing and his fears.  Even so, it was difficult to remain curious because the changes he spoke about would make a big difference in the way she was living her life and the things she wanted.  She had to keep reminding herself to put aside her attitudes, judgments and opinions for the sake of really ‘getting’ what Ted was saying.  She had to keep reminding herself of her intention to remain curious.

As Becky listened with openhearted curiosity, Ted noticed that he began to relax.  He became less defensive and more willing to tell more of his truth.  He noticed that he was feeling gradually more connected to Becky.  He in turn became more curious about Becky’s feelings and thoughts.  Ted was able to better hear and respect Becky’s fears and her concerns that big changes and conflict about them might threaten their relationship.  He shared more fully and specifically that he had similar concerns, especially about the financial impact.

Ted and Becky had moved to an intimate conversation with each other.  It became intimate as they took risks to be more open and express their deeper truths. They were each willing to be authentic internally as well as with their partner and they became more connected with each other.  Many decisions lay ahead and what had seemed to be iron clad positions could now shift and open the door for future creative decisions.  The resultant decisions were more likely to be collaborative.  This would respect and include the needs and wants of each of them.

 Listening with an intention of being curious and maintaining a spirit of inquiry is not for the faint of heart.  For all of us it is based on our having an open heart and moving beyond our judgments and defensiveness.  It requires a commitment to the practice of self-awareness and curiosity along with the intention to have openheartedness as a basis for living our lives.

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Marlena Field, PCC, CPCC, CBCC
Professional Certified Coach

Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada

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