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Mindful : June 2014
68 mindful June 2014 Better to chill in awkward silence than inflict additional pain. While I was walking in the park the other day, I saw an at tractive, picture- perfect couple, worthy of a g reeting card, standing in the middle of a beautiful, big green meadow. But despite the lovely setting, they were fighting. His back was up, arms gesticulating and flailing. She was a lternately in his face, then backing off to bury her face in her hands. Passersby averted their gaze to avoid the couple’s obvious anguish. The whole thing probably started because one of them decided now was the perfect time to offer some feedback. Feedback is that incredibly annoying sound that happens when a microphone picks up what ’s coming out of speakers. And that’s what huma n feedback can be like when it is delivered unskillfully. It so often explodes in the heat of the moment when long-simmering anger a nd resentment spark an emotional outburst. Unfortunately, once those floodgates open, pain, hurt, and frustration often flow out. Here’s an example of a couple I was talking to the other day. The wife had a bad cold and was just arriving home from a business trip. Their ca r had been acting up and while she was away, it finally broke down. The husband had it towed to the shop, and rented a car to pick her up at the airport. When it was time to retrieve their car the next day, they went together in the rental. She was about to drive their car back home to get some rest, when he asked if she would follow him to the rental place, so he wouldn’t have to take the bus home. She said yes, but was disappointed (she was looking forward to lying down, not another 45 minutes on the road) a nd didn’t tell her husband how she really felt. When he got back in the car—pleased because he was about to get a ride home rather than wait for the bus—things got tense. Before long, her annoyance prompted her to say, “Whatever is convenient for you is always best.” He responded, “So, you didn’t wa nt to take me? You should’ve said so. You’re never straightforward.” Always. Never. Telltale, loaded words. You know how this pans out. Feedback rarely comes on schedule or at the appropriate time. Sometimes we’re fortunate to notice something g nawing at us, and we find a tactful time to have an open conversation about it. But unavoid- ably, misfiring emotions will trigger harsh feedback. The trick here—for the couple flailing their arms in public and the couple risking a ca r accident during a sniping match—is to notice the flash- point. And stop. Awkward silence usually follows while the verbal blows are still pulsating, but that’s OK. It’s better than piling on more hurt. Then, one of you should break the silence, perhaps saying something like, “Sorry. We got off on the wrong foot here. Let’s talk about this later when emotions are not running so high.” Then find a good time for real listening, contem- plation, and honest sharing, so you can discover together what is true. ● Provide Feedback, Not Payback ms. mindful on relationships in practice Illustration by Alessandro Gottardo