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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.  

Understanding the groundwork of the Seven Ways of Being Relational™

The Relational Approach © is a conscious and deliberate choice in how you can choose to interact with others. A Relational Mindset focuses on interactions that are natural and authentically oriented to connection with others, which empower and bring joy to you and others.

In their mediation work over the past 30 years at Baltimore Mediation, Louise and Bill Senft have refined Seven Ways of Being that are the cornerstones of the Relational Approach ©.  Although these anchoring concepts seem commonsense, when we crack open and unpack the deeper meaning in each it is an invitation to a higher calling in your day to day actions. The Seven Ways are universally applicable, within your control, and involve choices always available to you in how we relate to friends. They also apply to how you relate to your competitors, and even your enemies. They apply to those you know well and to those who are strangers and everyone in between.

Important learning:  Your role in a particular situation affects your choices in how you relate and how you influence the way others relate to you.  While each attitude and set of behaviors is distinct, the lines between them are interlocking.  They constitute a full spectrum of what it means to be relational.

In Being Relational TM, your first priority is to focus on the quality of the interaction with the other person. This brings the first Four Ways of Being Relational into play: Being Engaged, Being Centered, Being Grounded and Being Clear. These Four Ways lead to quality dialogue and tend not to escalate conflict in an unhealthy way and are based in the relational theory of conflict on which Baltimore Mediation has based its work.

Let’s examine Being Engaged. You can’t interact, negotiate, have a conversation or even relate to another person if you are not engaged. Engagement is the very first thing involved in Being RelationalTM. But so often, people don’t engage.  Habitually or unconsciously, you may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors:
  • Avoiding uncomfortable subjects or avoiding the other person entirely.
  • Being sleepy, mentally idle or disinterested in others.
  • Being distracted, preoccupied with some other thought, thing or stimulus.
  • Being “there” but closed to others’ perspectives.
If you regularly or habitually fall into these types of behaviors, you are not engaged. These may be protective habits that at one time in your life did protect you.  But used or relied upon repeatedly, they are barriers to engagement. You can change these habits if you want to. You can easily engage when it is comfortable if you want to do so. To fully engage with others, whether it is comfortable or not comfortable, you must first ground yourself and move from habit to intention.

Being Relational TM is not a sequential process.  It is not a step one, step two kind of thing.  Being Relational TM is linking to all Seven Ways, not necessarily all at one time, with each way coming to the front of your consciousness in different moments as you discern your path.

Try it at home: This month, pause and notice your habitual behavior. Take a breath and activate your self-observer. Notice. Use your consciousness to look at your patterns and make space internally for the energy of your thought patterns and feeling patterns before moving into action. Locate where those “shut down” or “reactive” feelings and habits show up in your body with a brief body scan.  Pause to be curious about the places in your body where those habits show up.  One by one, examine each of those places mentally with curiosity, not judgment. Those somatic feelings are often tightness or reactivity.  Just notice. Once you have identified how a habit feels, you can focus on relaxing those habits of mind, and discerning your next action.

This centering practice is key to living into the Seven Ways of Being Relational.  You may need some words to hold in your consciousness to anchor you and remind you to be engaged.  Words such as “present,” “attentive,” and “interested” are useful reminders. Consider your habits when you know someone wants to talk to you and you don’t want to talk to them, or what you do when you get an upsetting email. Notice your somatic responses.

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

Being Relational™ What is it?

Being Relational™.  A Relational Approach infuses everything we do at Baltimore Mediation, at Blink of an Eye™ nonprofit and Blink of an Eye™ Podcast.  But what does Being Relational mean?  It’s a world view.  It means you care about yourself and you care about others.  And you believe that no one wants to be a victim or an oppressor.  So you live your life making Relational Choices, mindful of your impact for well-being and for harm.  Over the past 30 years, Billy and I have been immersed in the study of quality interaction and negotiation, teaching negotiation mediation, and facilitating as mediators and relational advocates while supporting others in their negotiations.  It has brought us a unique perspective on how people relate to each other and how they find their way through very difficult times.  We’ve learned that people have either a transactional or a Relational approach to their interactions with others and to their lives. We start the discussion with a transactional approach, but not because that is what we want to teach. We begin there because it is most familiar to us in our highly competitive and transactional world.  We start with a transactional approach so we can better understand a Relational approach, as we compare and contrast.  A transactional approach centers on a scarcity mentality and a competitive approach.  Make it fair, but may the best person win! Competition makes us better – the striving, the struggle, makes us stronger and smarter.  Right?  A transactional approach is power based, that is power over based. Those with more power, from whatever source, will win and can maximize their gain in dealings with others resulting in the greater and greater accumulation of power by those who have it. Being Relational, by contrast, is a worldview that grounds people in conscious and deliberate choices.  For many people, the processes of interactions are automatic, based on habits governing reactions (or lack thereof) to various situations.  For many people living their lives on automatic from day to day, their learned behavior, influenced by the people and systems around them, is sleepy, and on autopilot, without conscientious thought. Being Relational wakes us up!  We become more aware of our thinking, feeling and behavior and their cumulative impact on ourselves and others.  Based on our research and experience, we believe there are seven ways of Being Relational:
  • Being Engaged
  • Being Centered
  • Being Grounded
  • Being Clear
  • Being Generous
  • Being Humble
  • Being Kind
Within and under each of the 7 ways are deeper reasons and outcomes for the choices we make.  These 7 ways are universally applicable, within your control, and involve choices always available to you.  It is relational to be engaged, centered, grounded and clear – ways of being that prevent conflict from escalating and promote quality interaction.  In addition, it is relational to be generous, humble and kind – ways of being that create positive outcomes which reverberate, are paid forward, and foster clear experience shifts from being transactional to being relational, and a way of living into being relational can begin, and begin again.  We can move from focusing only on self and maximizing gain, to focusing on both self and other and maximizing well-being.  Learn more about this worldview in our book, Being Relational.