In the world of Process Work, which I study and practice, we try to notice when we’re taking sides, acting disrespectfully, assuming everyone in the room agrees with us, and judging people who don’t. Recently, I was in a conversation with a friend about the current political environment in the United States. The conversation was heating up, and my friend said some things that were hard for me to hear and, in my view, not like him.
Instead of pushing back, I told him I was surprised to hear him saying these things. He didn’t sound like the person I knew him to be. He paused and reflected, and said he thought this was like him. And the pause is what mattered. The temperature of the conversation cooled, and we continued with more respect for our different ways of thinking.
Engage the Meta-Communicator
There are times when I take a stand for something I believe in. It’s important when I do that I realize there may be other stands and beliefs that want to be expressed. Process Work calls this ability to observe and communicate with myself the meta-communicator — the “me” that’s standing by my side silently witnessing without judgment all that’s happening — what I’m saying, how I’m saying it, my attitude toward what I’m saying, and my attitude toward the other person and the situation. The meta-communicator can also see what I’m not saying, and why.
When activated, the M-C can say, “Wow, I’m beginning to feel angry, and that’s making it hard for me to hear what you’re saying. Can we take a break and come back to this conversation? It’s important and I want to hear you. I’d also like you to hear me. Let’s take five minutes. What do you say?”
I’ve written about this ability to meta-communicate before, in a post about emotional triggers. Colleague and friend Joy Jacobs authored a book called, In A Pickle: Nourishing Recipes & Food For Thought, about how to strengthen and enlist the help of the meta-communicator in moments of stress. Activating the M-C lets me shift attention from the problematic person or argument to my internal state so that I don’t act out the anger or repress it. I take the time to notice my emotional barometer with interest and compassion, accept it for what it is, and move on to a conscious and intentional response.
In the Aikido model, it’s called centering. When I center I can observe and communicate with myself, increasing awareness and respect for other perspectives. Personally, one of the ways I recognize the centered state is by my ability to meta-communicate.
As I found with my friend, it’s possible to disagree and still have great respect for the other person. This is the key, however — to notice when you start advocating so hard for a position that you can’t meta-communicate, and you become uncentered.
To strengthen your M-C muscle, create a practice that helps you stay present when you take a stand, so that you can notice when you get sucked into winning some contest. Then stop, find your M-C, and see what happens next.
The world needs your meta-communicator. It needs all of ours. The great thing is that when you call on your M-C, it goes viral, calling out all the others around you. I think it might even work on social media. What do you think?