Being Engaged: Unlocking the Seven Ways of Being Relational™

Being Engaged is a cornerstone of The Relational Approach ©, pioneered by Louise Phipps Senft and Bill Senft through their mediation work over the past 30 years at Baltimore Mediation. How can you become more engaged in your relationships and cultivate a Relational Mindset? As a reminder, the Relational Mindset focuses on interactions that are natural and authentically oriented to connection with others, which empower and bring joy to you and others, those you love and those you do not.

Being Engaged is Being Present

Being present means that you are physically, mentally, emotionally right there with another person. Yes, it takes effort. When you give your full attention, whether returned or not, in that moment, there is a quality of dignity and honoring of self and other; we are both important. We inhabit the same space, the same planet. It matters and, as we are beginning to understand through quantum physics, it shifts energy positively – relational reciprocity.

Being Engaged is being Attentive

Part of being present, mentally and emotionally, in the sense of being there for others, is being attentive. Often, it’s easy to show up and then mentally check out and be somewhere else entirely. If you are automatically saying “no” or reflexively thinking “That’s ridiculous. Stupid. Here we go again,” you also are not attentive, and you are sowing the seeds of conflict with others in your lack of attention. When people feel dismissed, they will push back stronger, or go elsewhere to others to be against you.

When you are engaged with others, you make mental and emotional space for the other to enter your experience. You don’t analyze, interpret, or prepare to understand. As Stephen Covey suggests, you seek first to understand and then to be understood.

Being Engaged is Listening, Reflecting, and Asking Open Questions

Three practices are key to effective communication: Relational Listening, Reflecting and Asking Open questions. All three are elegantly simple but can be hard to do. Here’s how. Listen attentively: suspend what you think, feel, and want to say. Be aware of your own impulses to either: agree with, align with, give advice to, or tell others what to do or not do, your impulse to disagree with, dismiss, or put them down. When you listen attentively, the other person will experience you in the way they most yearn for you to experience them: fully, as a human being. To this quality of listening, add a reflection. When the other person finishes their thought, reflect back both the facts and feelings they conveyed using their exact words, not yours. Why do this? It communicates that you are with them, by their side, neither behind them nor ahead of them, honoring their story and fostering their empowerment. To reflect another in this way allows that person to edit, to change, or to modify, or to retract what they were saying. It is a vehicle for clarity and understanding. Once the person has calmed down a bit or finished sharing their thoughts, ask an open question. “What else is important?” “What else do you want me to know or understand?” An open question is one that does not seek a particular answer or call for a yes or no response. It is not a leading question and does not steer the conversation. It seeks to understand. The yearning to be understood, and thus connected is deeply hard-wired in to our cellular structure and held by all human beings. The best part for you in choosing to be engaged is that you now have a much better chance that the other person will be able to listen to you.

Being Engaged is Being Interested

Being engaged, present, and attentive involves adopting an open attitude That open attitude is based on curiosity and interest in other people, even in casual conversation. Being relational is attending to yourself AND others. When you are intentional, because we are committed to living relationally, interest in other people builds capacity through connection and civility. This attitude of curiosity will serve you even in difficult interactions, even when you feel someone is against you. When you are in that heated debate, pause and check in with yourself. Notice what is pounding or racing in your body and take a deep breath and center yourself. With self-awareness and purpose, offer your views and ask, “So what do you think about that?” “When you say that, I want to understand why it is important to you.” Suspend your judgment of other and remain open. Open to new information. Open to gaining better understanding of others. It’s being strong enough to be vulnerable, open, welcoming to others, even when our viewpoints are different or our interactions unpleasant.

Important learning: Relational listening isn’t just a skill. Like presence, it too is more of an attitude, one of curiosity and openness. Following these methods for Being Engaged is critical for quality interaction. But your ability to be engaged is very much affected by your ability to avoid being sidetracked by your reactivity and your habits in aligning with others.

In Being Relational™, the first Four Ways of Being Relational, Being Engaged, Being Centered, Being Grounded and Being Clear, lead to quality dialogue and tend not to escalate conflict in an unhealthy way, but to move towards and through conflict, and are based in relational conflict theory on which Baltimore Mediation has based its work for 30 years.

Try it at home: This month, focus your energies on Being Engaged in your interactions. Practice being physically and mentally present in your interactions while listening to understand rather than judge. Listen to others carefully with a curious outlook. Experiment with reflecting back both the facts AND the feelings conveyed in the other person’s own words – not yours. Ask open ended questions. See how this adjustment feels in the moment and how it impacts your relationships. It takes thoughtfulness and practice – it may not feel second nature at first.

Being Engaged is being present, attentive, listening, and interested. Next month in the Gazette, you can look forward to examples of Being Centered. Learn more about this worldview in our book, Being Relational.