Thursday, December 24, 2015

My "touchy-feely" takeaways

I recently took the weekend version of Stanford's "touchy feely class", COM 19. I had heard good/intriguing things about it from my colleagues, and in the spirit of trying anything communication-related once, my partner and I signed up.

The class revolves around this thing called a "T group", which is a group of 12 strangers sitting in a circle for hours, staring at each other, and talking only about things actually happening there and then. What do strangers have to talk about? A lot, as it turns out. We all feel and think things when we're in new situations, and we tried to express those honest feelings while in the circle (thanks to the help of a feelings vocab sheet in our laps).

Before and during the process, we come up with our personal learning goals, and we discuss those with our coaching group. These were mine:

  • I often resort to humor in tense situations. I wanted to be able to recognize the emotions behind that humor and express those instead.
  • I tend to avoid conflict, and if there is conflict, my instinct is to run and hide. My goal was to not run into the bathroom, metaphorical or actual.
  • I rush to judgment of others and am quick to point out the ways they're violating the rules. That's been a goal for me generally in life this year, so I made it a goal for T group.
  • I realized during the class that I didn't handle it well when another person expressed appreciation for me (I deflected or tried to hide), so I made a goal of learning to receive appreciation.
  • Similarly, I realized I wasn't giving as much appreciation as others, so I made it a goal to practice giving appreciation.

I definitely felt like I progressed in my goals, some more than others. I did find myself getting into "teacher mode" a lot, which often happens in classroom-like situations, and I wasn't as emotionally engaged in that teacher mode. I did take an awful lot of notes about the ways that facilitators worded things, though. Here are a few of my favorite phrasings:

Describing our feelings/needs:
  • “I noticed… I feel… Pause.”
  • “The story that I tell myself is…”
  • “My experience of you…”
  • “My wish for you….”
Discovering how others feel:
  • “I’m sensing that you… Is that right?”
  • “I’m hearing that you…”
  • “How did my feedback land with you?”
  • “How do you feel right now?”
  • “How did it feel when I said that?”
  • “Can I check in with you to see how you’re feeling?”
  • “Do you feel complete with our conversation?”
Responding to conflicts:
  • “It’s not about the mess, it’s about cleaning it up. Let’s celebrate it!”
  • “I see that she is trying to make a repair, and I want to recognize that.”
  • “I see that you’re going into a shamehole, and my wish for you is to not go there.”

I found it particularly helpful that my partner and I both signed up. They put partners in separate groups, so that we can get touchy-feely without the baggage of a relationship. However, we met up during meals, exchanged notes, and often challenged each other to go further in our learning goals. After the workshop, we were able to communicate better because we were both so used to expressing feelings, and we expected that of each other.

I recommend checking out the class if you're interested in communication and honest expression. It will likely be a very different experience for you than for me, but it will certainly be an experience either way!

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