Conversation Clutter: The Shut-down

July 21, 2011

Every Monday morning I dial in to a conference call number to chat with two friends (Marilyn and Debra—not their real names) in a Mastermind group.  The purpose of the call is to support each other in achieving our goals.  Our process entails repeating a series of statements, asking for what we want and then affirming each other’s requests. This Monday was a little different.

Focusing on What Wasn’t Said

Before we could get started, Debra told us she would not ask for anything this week.  When Marilyn asked why, she responded with a mixture of frustration, helplessness, and a tinge of anger.  Marilyn suggested, “Could you ask for peace or space to relax?” The answer was a sharp “No!” 

The only tidbit she shared was that she spent the weekend with family.  This made me wonder what she meant by family—her nuclear family, her husband’s family, her extended family.  Was family really the issue?

This scant amount of information incited more questions.  I wanted to ask, “What’s going on?  What’s the real issue?  What can we do to support you?” but her fragilely hostile stance kept me from offering anything.  Out of respect for her boundary we launched into our weekly ritual now somewhat crippled by her refusal to participate fully in the process.  Marilyn and I made our requests and got the support we hoped for, but the person who needed support the most didn’t get any.  Our focus landed on what Debra wasn’t saying, rather than what she was saying. 

Broken Trust

Debra’s shut-down behavior impeded our process.  Our purpose in coming together is to support one another.  To do this requires trust, compassion and understanding.   When one person in the group stops trusting, then the whole dynamic gets out of whack.   

It seemed to me that Debra didn’t trust us enough to tell us why she didn’t want to fully participate in our Mastermind process.  Her behavior made me wonder whether I had misplaced my trust.  Was she worthy of hearing my dreams and desires, when she wouldn’t reveal her own?  These weekly conversations are intimate.  Trusting is paramount to the group’s success.  A fracture had been chiseled into our weekly ritual.            

This Got Me Thinking

During this brief exchange my attention had twisted off-course.  I started questioning my own intentions.  Am I getting enough of what I want from these weekly conversations?  If this behavior continues, will I tolerate it or say how I feel about it?  Do I have the courage to be honest?  Can I trust myself enough to listen to my inner voice and act on what it says? 

The three of us bear witness to each other’s deepest desires.  When we started this weekly ritual, we agreed to support each other with love and enthusiasm.  When one of us puts up a roadblock, all of us are affected.  Perhaps Debra was having the proverbial “bad day,” but that doesn’t excuse her behavior on our call.  I suspect she would be surprised, maybe shocked, if Marilyn and I were to share our unexpurgated reactions to this last conversation.

Taking Responsibility

I must confess I’ve had my shut-down moments with some of my closest friends.  It’s not a pretty picture.  Fortunately they “hung in there” with me, and I’ve gotten wiser about my aberrant behavior.  I’ve learned that it’s a grave disservice to everyone involved.  In the end, I am the only one responsible for my behavior.  If I can’t meet the agreed-upon terms of a conversation, then perhaps I should excuse myself temporarily until I can pony up the requisite input and responses.

Conversations are a mirror of our emotional maturity.  If we come to a conversation distracted, we siphon off the synergy of a productive exchange.  If we arrive angry, we become a catalyst for dissension.  If we approach a discussion with ambivalence, we can actually filibuster a decision making process.  Some of us come with the conscious intention of disrupting a conversation.  Others do it unconsciously. 

Consciously or unconsciously, it’s important to examine our motives and intentions before, during and after our conversations.  When we do, we can learn a lot about ourselves and what next steps are best for us to take in future conversations.

Bev Hitchins © 2011

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