When I was in the world of retail I used to read leadership books for pleasure. (I’m a nerd at heart and love to read. My passion for reading is insatiable.) One of the books that I enjoyed the most and actually learned a great deal from; specifically for my personal life, was Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations. The main reason I liked this book was Scott’s insistence that being present in conversations, no matter how challenging or difficult, can vastly improve your relationships. Scott came to this conclusion through research. I came to this conclusion through my Buddhist studies. Fierce Conversations just help me cement what I was already beginning to understand.
In the book Scott uses a personal example of a husband and wife that asked her advice about improving their relationship. The husband, like many in the past and present, complained that all his wife wanted to do was talk. It bothered him that she wanted to have a conversation about everything. He complained to Scott, “How can a conversation help a relationship?” Scott’s response was simple and eye opening, “The conversation is the relationship.”
I literally read that sentence over and over again. “The conversation is the relationship.” It’s simplicity was beautiful. It’s brilliance was stunning to me. If you aren’t invested enough to have the conversations that create the relationship, you aren’t invested in the relationship.
Now, keep in mind that Scott writes for those in the business world with the understanding that the advice she offers can easily spill over into the personal lives of her readers. Her strongest advice is to remain present in the conversation. She advises business leaders, husbands, wives, children, to stay in the moment of the conversation. As I read her book the connections to Buddhism just kept clicking into place for me.
I’ll admit it can be diffcult at times to stay in the moment; especially with all of the distractions life has to offer. My biggest challenge is detaching myself from my cell phone. I am terrible about picking it up while out to dinner with friends or finding an excuse to use it during conversations. I recognize that this has to change for me to remain in the moment with loved ones. But ultimately it is a simple fix; keep the phone in my pocket or leave it in the car.
The more difficult challenge to staying in the moment is shutting off your mind. As we all know our minds can go in a thousand different directions just performing every day tasks like reading, making dinner, or worse, driving. How many of us have gotten to our destination and not remembered any part of the journey? (Guilty) We also know that it’s so easy to remove ourselves mentally from the moment and lose the entire thread of a conversation. The first step is, as always, to recognize and acknowledge that we are checking out of the moment with someone we care about. The next step is the hardest: remain present.
How do I do this? I ask myself this question quite often. How do I keep my mind from taking its mini holiday when someone else is speaking? One of the most helpful techniques for me is looking the person in the eye. This is challenging for me, at times, because eye contact can be intimidating. But it improves my relationships twofold. It helps me remain with the conversation that is happening with the person in front of me (who is important to me). It will also adds a level of intimacy between me and my partner.
The remaining step is to actually listen. Actively listen. I try not to think about the next thing I’m going to say; no matter how brilliant I think it’s going to sound. I do my best not to jump ahead of my partner to try and figure out the path of the conversation. I stop and listen. One way I attempt to ensure that is to breathe. As with meditation my breath becomes my center point. I also lean in so my partner knows I’m are truly listening. When a natural break occurs in the conversation I repeat the finer points and ask questions that help further my understanding. Above all I avoid letting myself get distracted. Nothing is more important than this moment, right now. I want my partner to feel this. The more they feel that from me the stronger my relationships grow.
Buddhism is all about living in the present moment. We cannot worry about the past and it is foolishness to stress about the future. The now is all we have. It is the same with the relationships we develop and nurture. If I constantly dwell on what my partner did, said, or what I believe they should have said I start to feel resentment. I don’t like to play scenarios in my mind about what my partner might say or how they will react to what I’m going say. It paralyzes me and then I don’t have an open conversation with my partner. Instead, I focus on the moment I’m in. Even the hard conversations can be beautiful and nurturing when I show I care enough to stay in the moment and see the conversation through to the end. Am I always successful? Most assuredly not. Do I do my best to recognize my shortcomings? Yes.
Ultimately life is the connection of small moments linked together. Stay in the moments. Live them. Nurture them. Send your love into every moment you inhabit and you will strengthen every relationship, no matter how temporary or permanent.