The ability to understand is often touted as a key to good relationships but what tugs at many of us, confounding our efforts, is the desire to be understood.
In the movie Avatar, set on the planet Pandora, the indigenous Na’vi have an expression of greeting: “Oel ngati kameie”, that is, “I see you”. But the greeting is more than a mere acknowledgement that someone is standing before them and far more than recognition; it denotes knowledge of who the person is at their core and acceptance of that.
Have you ever attempted a conversation with a friend or partner only to feel that your words were not being heard? Have you ever walked into a crowded room at a convention or party and thought you just might be invisible, given the lack of connection you felt? Those are times that the Na’vi “I see you” would be welcomed indeed.
Take the example of the conversation that has lost its way. The need to be “seen” or “heard” is tied closely to a universal human need – to be valued. It is exponentially more difficult to seek understanding of another person’s perspective when we fear that we are, in essence, being dismissed or in some way diminished.
Consider that “invisible” walk through the crowded room. Another universal human need is connection; the sense of belonging, being a “part of” is deep within our consciousness. When we don’t feel connected we can easily feel uneasy or, at a very primal level, afraid.
There is an approach that can prove most effective in both situations actually – be inquisitive.
Think about it, being inquisitive is quite literally opening up – to information, to sensations. Imagine that conversation with an open, inquisitive mind, rather than a controlling, calculating mind. Now, rather than mentally framing your next response in challenge to something you’ve heard you’re absorbing, listening for inflection, energy (or lack thereof). Now you have the opportunity to separate what is seemingly expressed as an attack for what it might likely be – a plea, a request, hidden beneath layers of emotion.
Take another walk into that room; this time relax your shoulders and breathe more deeply; allow your spirit to be unfettered. Feel the energy in the room and be swept up in it, become a part of it. Rather than being concerned about “fitting in”, know that you already do fit in in some way, and you simply need to find that spot where you can comfortably participate. It may appear quickly, it may take a while, but allow it to occur without imagining a chasm or wall behind which you’ll hide in supposed safety.
Look at the person with whom you’re conversing, look at the people in that crowded room, and say “I see you”, then allow them to see you as well.