In my last post, I referred to the three fundamental needs all human beings have: security, connection, and meaning. Security feels like the most immediate one, since the need for survival has been hardwired into our bodies through millennia of evolution. That’s why Abraham Maslow put it at the base of his hierarchy of needs.
Leaders have a special responsibility because they have the power to provide a sense of safety for those they serve.
I’ve learned that, in communications, when any of the following show up, it means that safety is missing and might indicate the presence of the following emotions:
Flight: If you see someone trying to avoid a situation or duck a conversation, it might mean shame is at play. Perhaps, that person doesn’t want you to find out about a mistake they made or something they did.
Fight: If someone gets really defensive or combative, it may indicate guilt. That person might know that they are in the wrong and using the fight to direct our attention away from that wrong.
Freeze: When a person is frozen or unable to take any action, it might indicate that person is uncertain about the facts of the situation or about what to do.
When any of these behaviors shows up, it means that safety is missing, and that as leaders, we have an opportunity to contribute to meeting someone’s needs by trying to create a safe space for them.
I recently finished reading through The Five Love Languages for Men by Dr. Gary Chapman. Dr. Chapman is a marriage and family therapist, and after 30 years supporting his clients in their relationships, he offers the following assertions: Every person has a primary mode of expressing love – a “love language.” Challenges in relationships arise when we don’t realize that we literally are speaking a different language from our partner. The solution, then, is to find ways to communicate in our partner’s love language. (Dr. Chapman offers five primary love languages, each with their own dialects: Words of Affirmation; Quality Time; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service; and Physical Touch.)
I am finding that this concept has been helpful in thinking about how to acknowledge my staff for their hard work. We all have a basic need to be recognized for our contributions. And yet, managers get frustrated because they are communicating in their own love language, giving acknowledgments to their employees that employees don’t fully receive because the acknowledgment isn’t in their primary love language.
If we listen more closely to our coworkers, we can begin to hear what their primary love language is. We can get a better sense of how they wished to be recognized for their work.
And when we can acknowledge our coworkers the way they wish to be acknowledged, we are enhancing their job satisfaction without having to expend too much (if any) resource.
This morning, I had another fulfilling 2.5-hour Skype chat with Aaron. It’s so funny because when we talk, it feels like we cover so much emotional ground, and at the end, we’ve grown so much in our capacity to love. One of the things that I’ve been riding Aaron about is figuring out what the form of our new friendship needs to look like: What new agreements do we need to make? What new communication practices should we take on that will help us realize our commitments to each other?
On this end of things, it is clear that neither of us has the answer to this. Neither of us has had the experience of breaking up with someone we love, still loving them, and yet acknowledging that we can’t be together romantically. As I contemplate this conversation, something became very clear and obvious to me: A relationship doesn’t exist because we make good agreements with our partner; a relationship lives in the practice of those agreements.
I don’t know what it is about being stuck at home, getting back to my full health, which has the emotional pendulum swing that much faster. Being kooked up at home means that I’m also stuck in my own head, thinking and rethinking things over and over again.
I just finished up reading through Astrobarry’s essay on Mars-in-Leo. The thing that stood out for me was the entire idea of being direct in our communication, saying the things that are really there for us. I thought back to a recent episode of Glee, in which the teacher distinguishes a ballad as using music to express those things that we would otherwise not be able to express.
It got me thinking about why many of us aren’t direct about what we want to say. Granted, there is a definite disadvantage to someone not being responsible about their communication and spewing everything that comes up for them. Yet, I’m just talking about those things that are true. Why do I have so much difficulty saying how I feel? I mean, isn’t that a part of being in the present moment? What am I afraid of?
What would it look like if we just spoke the truth, without fear of how the other person would react? What if we could express freely those things that are in the depths of our hearts? What would it be like to communicate with complete openness, raw and pure?
This morning, I recounted to my friend what I said to a coworker yesterday about how I enjoy a challenge when it comes to relationships. As I said that, I literally paused and said out loud, “What does that mean? Do I expect relationships to be challenging? And if so, should I be so surprised that my life looks the way it does??”
If it is indeed the case that our word creates our world, as Lao Tzu asserts, what kind of world is created by the belief that relationships are meant to be a challenge? In a world where relationships are a challenge, there is no connecting with people. There’s only the constant struggle to be right. Communication in that world is more about winning some kind of twisted game, rather than about getting in each other’s worlds. There’s no real love in a world where relationships are a challenge. There’s only suspicion, mistrust, and ultimately, loss.
This is not the world in which I want to live. Relationships are not a challenge; rather, they are about Fulfillment. They are the space in which I get to unfold and express my self with another. They are a means by which I get to expand my capacity to Love and to contribute to the world. Inside of a world of fulfilling relationships, there is Happiness. There is Joy. There is being with others in ways that call forth the best in them.
It’s only been a couple of hours since Aaron and I concluded our morning Skype call in which we came to agreement to not communicate with each other for six months. I’m already regretting offering such a long time period to put between us: All the major holidays and our birthdays occur inside of that period. Yet, it is precisely because of this that we need this time to get closure on an already-missed relationship, to heal, and to move on.
As we take leave of each other, this parting feels very much like those kisses goodbye. And that analogy gives me much solace as the sadness begins to creep in. Like those kisses, I can only pray that Love will lead us back to each other. …
One task that I am clear I need to do is to put away the photos of Aaron and me, as well as the greeting cards that he has given me. It’s not that I don’t want to see them. It’s just having them around does not facilitate the process of my grieving and putting this relationship behind me.
And as Aaron and I confront the choice about what the next steps are for us, I think there’s a reluctance to make the difficult yet healing choice to completely inhabit our own lives … without communicating with each other … for an extended period of time.
For me, this choice feels very much like the difficulty of not wanting to put the photos away. A part of me is fearful that, if I do, I will forget something I want to remember. Another part of me just doesn’t want to finally confront that it’s over, and the act of putting away those photos feels like putting Aaron away.
For now, we’d like to explore the possibility of getting back together again once he’s done with school. In the end, we may not ever get back together again in a romantic relationship. Either way, Love has gotten us to this point in our lives, … to this place where we are each at the threshold of amazing growth and transformation that would not have been possible had we still been in the relationship we had. … If it’s gotten us this far, then we should trust that we can generate Love even with the passage of time. …