In an earlier post, I suggested that we can actually enjoy marketing when we’re able to tap into our natural compassion and concern for others. As I said, I think this often requires us to let go of the ways we protect ourselves from getting hurt when we interact with another person.
For example, if we’re at a networking event, and we’re worried that others won’t take seriously what we have to offer, maybe we’ll loudly brag about our products and services, not letting anyone get a word in edgewise. However, this tends to get us exactly what we don’t want — people we interact with feel annoyed and don’t want to buy from us.
It would be nice if we could simply drop all these self-protection strategies and “get real.” Unfortunately, it isn’t usually that easy. Many of us developed these strategies a long time ago, and have been relying on them for a long time to get through life. Thus, they’ve become unconscious and habitual — we no longer even notice we’re using them.
How do we get conscious of the ways we’re sabotaging ourselves? In this post, I want to offer an exercise I’ve found very helpful in creating this kind of awareness. It’s simple, but it can be surprisingly intense and revealing.
You’ll need a partner to do this exercise. Stand across from each other and make eye contact, remaining silent for a few minutes. As you face the other person, silently ask yourself a few questions:
1. Where am I tense? Bring your awareness into your body, and notice any tight places. For example, maybe your shoulders are tensing up, as if you’re about to be attacked and you’re preparing to defend yourself. Perhaps you find your lips curling into a strained grin, as if you need to please the other person or convince them everything’s okay.
2. What am I afraid they’ll do? Are you worried that the other person will do something hurtful? Maybe, for instance, they’ll turn their back and ignore you? Yell at you and accuse you of screwing up? Deceive you and take advantage of you in some way?
3. How do I want them to see me? What do you want the other person to think about you? For example, perhaps you want them to think you’re totally calm about doing this exercise? That you’re “nice” and not dangerous to them? That you’re tough and you can protect yourself if need be?
4. What do I want them to do? Is there something you want (or maybe even need) from them right now? Do you want them to smile at you? Or maybe you just want them to go away and leave you alone?
Now, consider the possibility that you’re bringing exactly the same attitudes and desires into every interaction. If you’re feeling afraid of the other person, for example, you’re probably feeling afraid of a lot of people you deal with in your daily life.
As you might imagine, this exercise is often uncomfortable. If you don’t like “awkward silences” in conversations, you sure won’t enjoy this! However, the awareness it can create is invaluable. Often, just realizing the ways you’re tensing up, protecting yourself from the other person, trying to convince them of something, and so on is enough to help you let go of those strategies.
As Fritz Perls, the creator of Gestalt therapy, put it, awareness by itself is transformative.
I’m pleased to share my interview with Evan Hadkins, author of the book “Living Authentically” and the blog WellBeingAndHealth.net. Evan is a counselor and acupuncturist in Canberra, Australia, and his book offers an approach to wellness based on a unique blend of Gestalt therapy and traditional Chinese medicine. I think the conversation has both depth and plenty of practical exercises for reducing stress and bringing joy and ease into our lives.