When the Shoes are on the Other Feet

Your partner didn’t take out the trash, again. Your boss just sent you an email saying you need to redo your whole presentation, right now! You’ve asked your child to turn off the TV and do their homework and for the fifteenth time, they’ve ignored you. (You’re quite astounded at the commitment they are currently displaying but that’s beside the point…)

You ask, “Why?”
Your partner says, “I forgot.” Your boss, “Because it’s wrong.” Your child just looks straight ahead, saying nothing.

Your mind begins to race, thinking:
You had one job and the trash can is right outside of the kitchen door.
I did my part and followed the parameters I was given.
I know you can hear me; just do it!

Often, before you know it, these thoughts have transformed from airborne brain matter to verbal digs and jabs. Leading to a heated and unproductive discussion or what most of us know as a fight.

The truth is you deserve and have the right to be heard and understood so do those around you but being heard and understood doesn’t always mean you will get what you want, in the way you want. To move forward in a disagreement or challenge, it can be helpful to start from a place of hearing and understanding the person(s) you’re having the disagreement or challenge with.

Wait. What? Yep, you heard me. If you want to be heard, first listen. If you want to be understood, first try to understand.

This is an exercise I use with couples, parents and children, co-workers, or for any group of 2 or more people in a challenging situation and who are having a tough time reaching an understanding. Note, I didn’t say a resolution. Resolutions are so emphatic and imply an end. The truth is relationships are ever evolving as are the individuals who comprise them. What may seem like a resolution today, maybe the exact opposite of what you want to come tomorrow. So, instead of trying to reach a resolution, let’s aim for a space that allows space for the evolution of it all. Set your sights on understanding.

The steps are simple but letting go and opening your mind may be a little more difficult but so worth it.

So, what is this exercise? Play a role reversal.

Take turns speaking to each other from you assume is the point-of-view of the other person. Use words that the other person would use. Try to use similar mannerisms. If you can, use a symbol, like a piece of clothing, hat, bag/purse, favorite pen, toy, etc. Use the symbol to help you feel like you’re really in the other person’s shoes. The rules are simple: be as present as possible and really hear the person you’re doing this activity with. It’s okay if an occasional time-out is needed to cool down.

The purpose isn’t for either of you make fun of the other or to assume or place fault but to understand how the other’s motivators and feelings in the situation from their perspective, rather than your own. This also provides you with space to hear your words and see your mannerisms through the eyes of the other person. When you use all your senses in this way it bypasses your cognitions, goes to a deeper emotional understanding each other and yourself, and gives the foundation for a relationship that can continually evolve.

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