Here you will find an example of a real-life workshop. You will be able to read how two people, who clearly have a lot of love for one another, did not know anymore how to share it. They ended up on a path of mutual recrimination.
Often, with sentences that start with: “you did”, “you said”, “you should”, “you shouldn't”, “the problem with you”, “you hurt me”, “you are not listening to me”.
When we go down this path, we hope that the other person will finally be ready to hear us, and that they will simply quieten down and open their ears.
The problem with this approach is that it obtains the exact opposite of what we would like: the person that we so badly want to connect with, shuts down because they hear judgment and/or criticism. Wouldn't you...:-)?
Mr. A and Ms. B came to us because: “We have created a routine set of responses, a pattern if you will, to one another, and we see that we have grown apart. Each one of us is busy with his/her life, and we don't actually communicate. We live under the same roof, yet that seems, unfortunately, to be it. We lost the ability to have fun together, to do things that connect us intimately, to enjoy each other”
It didn't take us long to see that the real issue this couple had was the use of language and mental images of one another. They both believed that the other person was doing or saying certain things that were detracting from each other's lives; specifically, she believed that he was not sharing enough verbally about his intentions; he, on the other hand, believed that many of her behaviors were “nosy and stifling”.
It is no wonder that such dialogues, that imply wrongness of the other party, separate us humans, instead of bringing us closer.
So, within the space of a few sentences, we realized what was going on. Thanks to the understanding that all humans share the same basic needs (When we say understanding, we are referring to humanist counseling: according to Rogers, Ericksson, Rosenberg and many more, all human beings share the same basic human needs. For more on the science behind this, please read our blog called: Basic human needs: scientific resources), we were able to help them see that A had a strong need for sharing and togetherness and that B had a strong need for autonomy and space, as well as sharing and togetherness.
As we moved along through the days of our workshop, it became clearer and clearer to both of them that the dialogue that they had had so far was no longer a viable possibility. Equally, it became clearer to them, with a little help from us, that they actually shared most of the same needs or, put differently and with more detail, that they both had several needs that were different, yet, on the other hand, that they had some needs whose commonality between the two of them was particularly strong: for closeness, independence, togetherness, autonomy and sharing.
So, now, you could ask: “this is all very well, yet how does this understanding of my needs help me come closer to the person/people that I no longer manage to have a constructive dialogue with?”
Let's continue and stay for a little while on the importance of understanding, and identifying our needs.
As we said before, all of us share the same basic human needs and these needs are never mutually exclusive. A few examples of needs could be: the need for sexual expression, for nutrition, for sharing, for growth, for (personal) space and the list goes on much further.
If we manage to connect to these needs within ourselves, we can see that all that we do and say in our daily experience, is geared towards fulfilling them.
The only problem in this picture?
Most of us are unaware of the fact that our doing and saying things are here to fulfill those needs; a clear case of putting the cart before the horse. We go find jobs we don't like -we fulfill our need for financial safety while at the same time we ignore our need for harmony and playfulness-, we get into relationships that are clearly not for us -we fulfill our need for sharing and sexual expression while at the same time we ignore our need for closeness and sharing-, we drink fluids that we don't really like yet we are with a group of friends -we fulfill our need for sharing while we ignore our need for physical well-being-.
All this leads us to have, basically, a relationship with ourselves, as well as relationships with others, in which we no longer know how to reach one another.
Well, there is obviously never only one answer, yet, my/our take on it is that if we manage to connect at the level of those basic human needs, the shift to connection can be pretty rapid.
In the case of Ms. A and Mr. B there was a major breakthrough already on the first afternoon of the workshop; Mr B was, for the first time in years, able to hear what Ms. A needed, with a little help from us; this breakthrough was possible because both were willing to drop their usual accusatory dialogue, and to try to listen to each other's basic human needs (we led them along in this new way of relating) in a loving and emphatic way, as opposed to the “you this” and “you that” dialogue they had come to create between themselves.
Their desire to reconnect so as to be able to fulfill their needs for peace, harmony and sharing led to this major breakthrough. When we reach these points, which we like to refer to as shifts, we already start from a new point of personal consciousness in the approach to one another.
In fact Mr. A and Ms. B, that same evening, after the daily workshop-session, had a situation that triggered a lot of pain in them both. However, as they had examined and reconsidered their dialogue for the better part of the afternoon, they were able to hear each other in a completely new way.
Instead of accusing each other of some wrongdoing, they tried to identify each other's needs. Being new to all this, they still lacked the proficiency to do so fully. This caused them to fall into some old traps. Nevertheless, they were, in their own words: “clearly on a different path, literally looking at each other with different eyes, with a dialogue that was much more loving than the day before”.
A path that was connecting, instead of alienating and disconnecting.
Over the months that followed the workshop, we were regularly in touch with A and B. They told us that: "for the time being, we don't need a refresher/follow up. We just need to practice what we learned from you"
While this might not be the case for everyone, what is really important for us is how powerfully connecting this "new language" is, to the point that two people who had not practiced this before, were now able to interact in a totally different way. For a description of the workshop, please follow this link.