The last blog was all about power, control and responsibility.

Which then got me thinking about that word ‘responsible’

Response able

Able to respond.

Doh…I’d not thought of it like that before.

  • So what does ‘being able to respond’ mean to you?

Able to respond to someone else.

Responding to someone else is different from reacting. Reaction is fast, often without thought, based on habit, fight, flight or pleasure.  Responding is more considered.

I reacted tonight when Eldest Son wasn’t doing as he was asked.  I was angry.  He was angry.  We both sulked then said sorry.  Later I responded to him by asking how he was feeling and what was going on…this was a much happier communication which built relationship whereas the reaction had broken it.

Reaction is pre-programmed, we don’t stop to consider, we just act.  Sometimes, in a crisis, reaction is appropriate; if someone is about to reverse into me, I have to react quickly or they will hit me.  I would argue that outside crisis situations, being reactive harms relationships.

Being able to respond to another person, right here, right now involves being really present to how they feel and what they are saying.

Responding means listening to understand their perspective rather than to justify your own.

Responding means managing our own self-talk so that we can hear what the other person is saying in the way that they mean it rather than as we think they mean it.

This kind of ability to respond demands full use of our intellect, our emotions, our physical sensations, so that we can really understand fully what the other person is trying to express.

How can we take responsibility for someone, or for a decision, without really understanding it/him/her on all levels?  Without this response-ability we are controlling as we are doing what is best for us rather than what they need.

When my boys were tiny, all I had to go on was their body language, their facial expression, their vocal sounds and their movement.  I had to focus on this to know what they needed because they couldn’t tell me.

As I write this I realise that now I depend too heavily on words and what they tell me.  If I had read Eldest Son’s body language and eyes tonight as I used to, I would have avoided being angry.

Note to self – get better at reading body language and facial expression and don’t let the words, or lack of, fool me.

So responsibility, true response-ability is only possible with empathy.

We have to be able to understand how it is for another person in order to respond to them in a way that allows them to be who they are, rather than who we think they should be.  Tonight I wanted Eldest Son to be the kind of son who would lay the table and help with tea, if I had looked closer and dropped my ‘shoulds’ I would have seen a boy who needed a hug and who was feeling a bit sad and confused as well as a young adult trying to assert his individuality.

‘Able to respond to my own thoughts, needs and feelings’.

Some people can’t empathise. Sociopaths, psychopaths, people with some kinds of head injuries, some people on the autism/Aspergers spectrum just simply cannot empathise.

Most of us are do not have those excuses so why aren’t we always as empathetic as we can be?

  • When are you able to be really empathetic?
  • When aren’t you able to empathise?

I know that I don’t empathise when:

  • I think I’m right and I’m more interested in proving that than listening to the other person
  • When telling myself how you/he/she should be rather than looking at how they are
  • When I’m stressed
  • When I’m not feeling good about myself or my life
  • When I’m tired
  • When I’ve give out more than I have received back and so feel depleted.

So, a crucial part of being able to respond is knowing how I am.

  • How good are you are you at being able to notice your emotion, needs and cognitive responses to a situation?
  • What helps you pay attention to yourself?

I did some training recently which didn’t go as I expected.  I reflected on it for 24 hours and then emailed the other people concerned sharing my perception, my thoughts and my feelings.  Out of this response came creative ways forward that would have been lost had I not taken responsibility for myself and been able to respond to my experience.

Tuning into our thoughts, feeling, experience and intuitions gives us valuable information about what we need and about what other people need and when we do this we are more able to respond to others – this is true responsibility.

  • How response-able are you at work? Home? With friends?
  • How could you develop your ability to respond to other people?
  • How could you develop your ability to respond to yourself?

Let me know how you go.

If you enjoyed reading this please share it with friends. You might also be interested in talking to me about coaching , or maybe try some of my online courses (some are free), or treat yourself to a climate protecting pamper with vegan friendly, organic Tropic which supports the planting of forests and education in deprived areas.
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