flowing motion

Is it fair to puncture someone’s anger with active listening?

Posted on: November 16, 2009

Writing to understand

I’ve been writing myself into this this morning.

Does active listening work? And who for?

When someone is angry, and we are genuinely curious about what led to their anger, won’t they calm down?

Is active listening fair?

Do they have any other choice?  If they have no choice, are we bullying them?  Do they lose out, in real terms or in psychological terms, when we really listen to them?

Will passive-aggressives let you listen to them?  Won’t that spoil their fun?

Of course, someone who is in the habit of passive-aggression, or who habitually plays a “double-bind”, might be very disconcerted.  They might feel deprived.  But how long will that last?  I think we need some clinical psychologists to comment on that!

Aren’t misunderstandings the key to getting along?

Earlier today, I wrote on the value of misunderstandings. If we go around the world looking for misunderstandings, relishing them, enjoying them, then aren’t we able to listen to people who seem to blunder from one misunderstanding to another?

So what can we do about people who enjoy being angry?

To give my thoughts a more real-world test, I ran my mind over several people I know who really enjoy being angry. It is their modus operandi.  I think they would prefer not to be.  But they daren’t not be.

When we listen to persistently angry people, they won’t let us listen.

They quickly side-step any inquiry about who they are or what they want from life.

Yes, we do have to hear their anger first.

  • We have first to deal with the immediate situation that has got them going.
  • And then the general situation about what made them feel disrespected by the world.
  • And then with what is deeply valuable about their contribution to our well-being.

Modern day maths helps explain being in love with anger

The maths of phase-states might help. This is a relatively new form of maths for me and I hope I don’t mis-explain or misunderstand it.

When we are healthy, we loop about through all moods  adjusting to reality and because of reality.  It makes no more sense to be permanently cheerful than it does to be permanently angry.

Systems flip out of control though.

We can get in a rut where we use a very limited range of emotions.  We go in circles, rather literally when our moods are drawn on a graph.

And when we are in a very bad way, we get stuck on a single point.  Let’s assume that people who are in a very bad way will get the help of a professional and put them aside for a moment. We don’t help them on a day-to-day basis.

Let’s just think about ourselves when we flip out of the swooping 3D butterfly that is normal and healthy and limit ourselves to an endless repetition of happy-sad, happy-sad, never growing and doomed to repeat ourselves rather precisely, often in the sad belief that this is normal.

Still thinking in numbers and graphs ~ it is quite normal to have fluctuations – a zig zag – Zig zags will remain and it is unhealthy when they are not there. Remember that!  The first sign of ill heath is the lack of a zig-zag – you know like the line on the heart monitor – when there is no zig zag you are dead!

Let’s keep using that as an analogy. Imagine your pulse is racing. We want it to slow down to a more normal level – for the graph to point downwards. For the line to move downwards, it must zig zag down. It is the zig-zagging that brings it down. If it was dead straight down you would wonder where it will stop – your instinct, and accurate instinct – is that you must slow-down the freefall – you’ll introduce some zig-zagging in other words!

We don’t wnat the zig zag to be so wild that we can’t zig afte a zag, or vice versa. But it should zig zag.

That’s why misunderstandings are so important.

Misunderstandings, however uncomfortable, reveal what is “true and good and better and possible”.  They are zig which we can turn into a zag.  And after a while we realize the line is going up (more mental health) as we muddle along.

Endless circles

People get on an endless repetitive circle when they shut down negative feeling rather than explore it.

And they shut it down, when no one believes in them enough to listen to them. Learning ends and they repeat themselves in an effort to be heard.

If only someone somewhere would just listen!

If only someone somewhere would afford them the respect of assuming their temper tantrum is about something important!

If only someone somewhere would give them the respect of assuming that their temper tantrum is valid because they are valid.

Then they have a chance of learning from the zag.

And we would too.  Misunderstandings tell us a lot when we start by assuming the other person’s point of view is valid.

I hope that active listening is not unfair

I hope I don’t spoil the day of the passive-aggressives.

No that is not quite true! When they are annoying me, I probably do hope I spoil their day because they are making mine worse.

But from the luxury of a sunny English autumn morning, I hope I don’t spoil their day. I just want them to be happy. I don’t mind that they are angry. Anger is a legitimate emotion. I just want to say that to them. It is OK. Be angry. We understand.  You are still important to us . You are still one of us.

Endless curiosity

And being endlessly curious, I’ll learn what they are about and why they are so important to our story on this earth.

Irrepressible enthusiasm. Damn, you can’t keep an exuberant person down!

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