Re-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2014/10/02/why-do-we-disengage/
Disengagement is the number one problem in communication. Whether it is between parent and child, boss and employee, coworkers, friends, or significant others. When one person disengages, compassionate communication quickly becomes difficult to near impossible.
Disengagement takes many forms. Most of you probably saw that word and thought “walked away, left the conversation”. And that certainly can be one form of disengagement. Other forms it can take are attacking the other person, attacking oneself and stonewalling. And you may be able to imagine a few other forms too. Disengagement is basically any time one person stops the flow of open, honest, compassionate dialogue.
And why do we disengage? And how can we counteract it?
Let me lay out just three reasons we disengage and how to counteract them. The first is shame. Shame is the feeling that I am bad, wrong, or unworthy. And all sorts of things can trigger shame. It can be something as aggressive as criticism or as banal as making a mistake. Either way when someone feels shame they disengage to protect themselves. They will either attack the other person, start attacking themselves, stonewall, or even just try to escape the conversation. Shame can be hard to address because people usually don’t vocalize “I feel shame”, shame is so powerful that people don’t want to admit to the experience of it. So some questions for you to determine if shame is at play: are they avoiding making eye contact? did you just criticize them or give them critical feedback? did you just catch them making a mistake? If the answer is yes to any of these three and the other person is disengaging, the reason is probably shame.
The best way to address shame is to remind the person that you care about them. Spend time trying to rebuild connection with this person. What do you admire about them? Can you see something positive in what they were trying to do? Have you ever made a similar mistake? Share your answers to these questions with them, and try to rebuild your connection, to show them you care and are on their team.
The second reason we disengage is that we view the other person as a hypocrite. We don’t see the other person as living in integrity with their values. Basically, we see them as being dishonest, and as long as you perceive someone as dishonest you are very unlikely to be open, honest, and compassionate with them.
Obviously the first precaution against this reason for disengagement is to be honest. To live in integrity with your values. Don’t say one thing and then do another. And of course sometimes we can do that, and someone else can still perceive us as being a hypocrite or dishonest, so what then?
Try to talk about it. Try to ask them “I’m concerned that you think I’m not being fully honest, is that true?” or even simply “why are you mad at me?” When people perceive you as being dishonest they are usually more than happy to point it out if you give them the chance. When they do point it out, don’t take it personally! When someone points out some way they see me not living in integrity or not being honest, I usually am tempted to go into shame and feel criticized. The result of that is then I disengage and the cycle of disengagement continues. So you have to work hard to stay engaged, and see them pointing out some sort of hypocrisy as the moment to try and regain connection by clearing it up.
Finally, the third reason we disengage can be simply biological. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Stressed? It can take some energy to stay engaged especially in difficult conversations. So it is important to stay mindful to how our bodies are doing. If your physical energy is drained, your emotional energy will go soon.
The best way to deal with this is to be willing to take breaks when talking about tough topics. Don’t feel like you have to “power through”. Take breaks to have a snack, take a nap, or just relax. Don’t use this as an excuse to sweep the issue under the rug. But do take care of your body; it truly is the foundation to everything else.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.