Principle Number Three: Feelings
Closeness happens at the level of feeling. So when you're talking, keep trying to express your feelings. And when the other is talking, keep trying to discover her feelings. No matter what you're talking about, it is almost sure you have some feelings about it. And no matter what the other is talking about, try to elicit her feelings about it. That's where real connection happens.
I was talking to my son last night. I tend to fall into the role of the teacher, especially with him, which is fine when he asks me for advice, but even then, I can focus on feelings. I don't know what you naturally drift into. But the principle is the same no matter what it is. As you notice yourself drifting, come back to feelings. Keep returning home to that base.
My son was waxing philosophical about jealousy. "I think if my girlfriend left me for another man," he said, "and I felt upset about it, the upset would be created by me, not by her. If I could become free of selfish neediness, I would not feel jealous or sad."
I wanted to argue with him. His idea seemed idealistic and naïve. I was about to drift into teaching, but I stopped myself. I remembered that I really want to be close to my son. And I reminded myself that closeness happens at the level of feeling, so I argued with his position, but from personal experience, revealing personal feelings.
"I don't know. That sounds good, but if Klassy (my wife) had an affair and I found out about it, I would not only feel jealous, I would be stunned because we know each other so well. I trust her." I was stumbling a little, but I went on: "What you're saying sounds good in theory, but I think it's too much of an ideal." Here you can see I started to drift away from talking about feelings, but I caught myself. "I guess it just worries me to think if something like that happened, you would not only feel jealous and hurt, but you'd be beating yourself up for feeling jealous and hurt." As I spoke, I was getting clearer about what I wanted to say at the level of feeling. And I said, "I just don't want you to suffer any more pain or sorrow than you have to."
This is totally different from what I used to do. In the old days, I would have given him information about the biology of emotions in mammals or something and he probably would have felt lectured to. But because I kept coming back to feelings, what I said brought us closer — he learned more about me.
But as you'll find out, revealing your feelings is only half the formula. Listening is the other half. Listening for feelings.
Listening starts with asking questions that will help you discover feelings (or the circumstances that led to the feelings). After I said what I said above, I asked my son, "Did something happen that got you thinking about this?" And our conversation moved away from an abstract debate over a philosophical point to a conversation that brought us closer.
A FEELING NAMED DESIRE
Desire is a feeling — one of the most important feelings to reveal. Your desires are a very important part of you, an intimate thing to divulge and to listen for.
When I was first learning about revealing what I feel, I spent two days really concentrating on it. But I made a crucial mistake. I was thinking of it as "show what you feel." So rather than hiding my emotions, I let them display on my face honestly. I had a terrible day.
The reason it didn't work is that first, nonverbal communication isn't clear. But more importantly in this case, I didn't tell people what I want. The only way people knew what I wanted was when I was displeased I didn't get what I wanted and showed the negative feeling on my face.
I learned that if you reveal what you feel but not what you want, people don't know what you want, so you will dislike some of what they do. Which you will display on your face. So revealing what you feel becomes "showing negative emotions" — it expresses itself as being critical. You need to back up a step and ask yourself what you want. Reveal what you want.
If you don't say what you want, then "revealing your feelings" ends up being non-understandable, confusing criticism. You are not-liking people when they do what you don't want rather than telling people what you do want.
What I've found works pretty well — a good rule of thumb — is to try to fill my conversation with "I want…" and "I feel…" Keep putting your talk into those two forms as much as you can. Keep coming back to it. And help others express what they want and feel too.
THE SECURITY OF VULNERABILITY
When you reveal your feelings to people, you are more open to criticism, hurt feelings, ridicule, and rejection. That's why we don't do it. It makes us vulnerable to emotional pain. But let's look a little beyond the immediate threat. As you form more close friends, you will feel more and more secure. You become part of a network of allies. You have confidantes. You feel surrounded and supported by close friends. This comfortable, secure feeling is one of the ultimate rewards cultivating closeness can bring you when you're willing to reveal feelings.
Bare your soul. Yes, you will sometimes get hurt. But closeness is worth the trouble. Yes, you will stumble and fall. But you can try again tomorrow. No, you may not be very good at it yet. But you can get better.
Closeness comes from communication at the level of feelings. You can discuss politics or philosophy or gossip or opinions for hours and not feel one iota closer to the person you're talking with. If your feelings and the other's personal feelings are not mentioned, all your talking will not make you feel connected.
LISTEN FOR FEELINGS
Reveal feelings. That's a simple principle you can remember and it will take you a long way. The meaning of "reveal" goes in two directions: On the one hand, try to reveal what you feel so others know you and can connect with you at the level of feelings.
The other meaning of "reveal" is also relevant: When you brush away sand, you reveal what's below. When you listen well, and listen for feelings, you reveal what the other feels. He reveals it to you with your help. Often, your efforts will help him reveal what he feels to himself. He may not have known he felt that way until you helped him uncover it. You helped him reveal his feelings. Empathy is the key.
Let's say you're talking with a friend and she says, "My boss is on my back." She looks worried and a little angry.
You're listening for feelings — you want to discover her feelings about the situation, you want to help her reveal her feelings, so you say, "That must make you feel worried and maybe angry."
You might ask why you should make her feelings explicit. She had a look on her face, and you saw it. The communication took place, right? Why bother saying it out loud? Why make it verbal? Because nonverbal communication is too easy to misinterpret. Her facial expression might have been indigestion. Your interpretation might be wrong. The "communication" that took place might not really have taken place like you assume. You won't know until you make it verbal.
Not only that, the fact that you're bringing it up and talking about it lets her know that you know. That's different than just sending out the communication. Merely speaking is not what makes people feel connected — otherwise speaking aloud by yourself would take away loneliness. But it doesn't. A vital part of connecting is knowing the other knows what you feel.
Sometimes it's difficult to listen for feelings. You have to put out effort. You have to try. It took me awhile to see and hear Klassy's hurt because the way she tends to express herself when she's hurt is to angrily attack. I used to be so busy defending myself I never noticed she was really hurt. But it makes a big difference to recognize that. When I recognize it, I don't bother trying to defend myself. If you know an animal is scared and lashing out desperately, you don't keep trying to dominate it. You back off. You try to reassure the animal that you mean no harm. This is an entirely natural response. When I recognize Klassy's anger as hurt, the conversation goes much differently. Much better. And I discovered this by listening for feelings.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.