The Intrapersonal Stage
The intrapersonal stage in Elevated Conversation is all about what is happening within you.
You will shift as necessary between the three aspects of Absorbing information, Empathizing with your conversation partner(s), and Regulating yourself. These can occur in any order and possibly overlap.
The Intrapersonal Stage in Action
You and the person you have been dating for five months are resting in a hammock by the river one afternoon. You’ve been sitting there enjoying the quiet when you notice they’re watching you.
“What?” You ask playfully.
They hesitate a moment, then steadily say, “I’m falling in love with you.”
You immediately feel a rush of heat from the back of your neck spread into your cheeks and down into your chest, and your heart begins to race. Your mind is bouncing everywhere and you do not know what to say—
You feel pressure to respond. But you haven’t decided you’re at that place- you don’t want to disappoint or hurt them. You also feel scared of saying something so big, and wonder if they really mean what they’re saying or fully understand it themselves. But you don’t want to disrespect what they’ve shared by not taking it seriously or trusting them. You’re quite suddenly overwhelmed.
Noticing this overwhelm, you take a deep breath in through your nose, keeping eye contact with them. You remind yourself that these are thoughts and not necessarily what is or what will happen. You remind yourself of the healthy bond you have with this person and relax into that.
You check through what is occurring: They said ‘I’m falling in love with you.’ You choose to let that land. What does it feel like to be loved in this moment? You allow yourself to be embraced by that.
You actively choose to empathize with their experience- they are falling in love. What a terrifying and exhilarating thing to be happening… they must feel scared and excited and deeply connected to you. It was especially brave of them to share that in this moment.
You empathize with yourself: you’re scared and surprised. That’s okay. That can be there. You’re also excited and unsure. That’s okay too…
Absorbing is the process of taking in the information available to you. It is the Noticing of the “Be, Do, Notice” model of Better Listening, and includes interpreting the information being noticed (so also some Doing!). Facilitated by heightened Attention and Awareness fostered through Presence, you can be absorbing a wide range of information all at once. The following table is from our section in Better Listening on things you can attend to while listening. Check that section out for more info here.
You can absorb information about Yourself, the Other person, and the Environment you’re in:
|Information (Mind Body Aspects)||Examples||Information||Examples||Information||Examples|
|Thoughts (Beliefs, Biases, Filters, Judgments, Ideas, Interpretations, Memories)||“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” ✦ “This is taking too long.” ✦ “That’s just like the time Harry and I got in a fight…” ✦ “This is such a good conversation.” ✦ “He doesn’t care about my feelings.” ✦ Etc.||Literal Content of message||Their words: “I think we should take a break.” ✦ “You never hang out with me.” ✦ “I have always been offered promotions quickly.”||Relationship and Power Dynamics||Boss and Employee ✦ Wealth disparity ✦ Equality / Friends ✦ Someone wants something from the other ✦ Age disparity ✦ Expertise disparity ✦ Respect or not ✦ Level of Familiarity ✦ Level of trust ✦ Etc.|
|Emotions||Sadness ✦ Happiness ✦ Irritation ✦ Anxiety ✦ Peacefulness ✦ Excitement ✦ Shame ✦ Fear ✦ Anger ✦ Desire ✦ Stoic ✦ Etc.||Meaning of Message||Possible meanings of above examples: “I’m overwhelmed and need more time alone.” ✦ “I want to spend more time with you.” ✦ “People see me as valuable.”||Time Context||Ample/Limited time to discuss ✦ Unexpected/planned conversation ✦ Time of day/night ✦ Etc.|
|Physical Sensations||An ache in my back ✦ Exhaustion ✦ Headache ✦ Pleasure ✦ Comfort ✦ Cold/Hot ✦ Over-caffeinated ✦ Alert ✦ Etc.||Physical Behavior/ Body Language||Fidgeting ✦ Looking away ✦ Eye contact ✦ Relaxed or stiff posture ✦ Etc||Environmental Influences||Noisy/Quiet ✦ Public/ Private ✦ Who is present ✦ Busy / Not ✦ Formal / Casual ✦ Etc.|
|Perceptions||Noticing that I am perceiving (Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch) ✦ I can hear the speaker, the road, my breathing, the rain ✦ I can smell car fumes, coffee, petrichor ✦ Etc.||Emotions||Sadness ✦ Happiness ✦ Irritation ✦ Anxiety ✦ Peacefulness ✦ Excitement ✦ Shame ✦ Fear ✦ Anger ✦ Desire ✦ Stoic ✦ Etc.||Prescribed Social Narratives (Cultural norms and roles)||Social Pressure to be Extroverted / Polite /Reverent/ Playful /Serious / Efficient ✦Expectations on what should happen next: On a date ✦ In a business deal ✦ At a party ✦ In a serious relationship ✦ Etc|
|Speech Pattern: Tone, Cadence, Breathrate||Quick speech ✦ Long pauses ✦ Volume change ✦ Playful/angry tone ✦ Etc.|
In this scene from the show “House,” the doctor (named House) surveys the situation before him and absorbs enough information to tell that the daughter is lying to him.
So here’s the deal: You have to become ‘Absorbent’ to have Elevated Conversations.
Our ability to absorb and process content is impacted by our biases, mood, physical wellbeing, relationship with the speaker and more! Being able to account for so many factors is challenging.
Like the old Zen proverb, you cannot fill a cup that is already full. You must empty your cup. Then you will be able to receive more information.
Luckily, there are practices that can help us maximize our absorption of information that are based on the cultivation of curiosity, practicing Presence, and learning to regulate.
The work of fostering curiosity is addressed in the Foundational stage of conversation which includes monitoring and questioning our biases, keeping perspective and establishing shared truth. It directly impacts what and how we absorb by either limiting or expanding what we pay attention to.
Opening yourself up allows you to absorb more information!
You’re talking to your aunt about politics and the two of you are coming from different backgrounds.
Scenario 1: You assume she doesn’t know what she is talking about and end up being defensive or trying to ‘educate’ her.
Scenario 2: You recognize your bias against her political views and consciously choose to open to her influence and not get defensive. This allows you to hear her explain herself thoroughly and you realize you both value you the same things but have different strategies for attaining them.
Your cat got out of the house for the third time this week, a total accident. When you finally find the cat and are getting him inside, your neighbor notices you and approaches. They seem pretty irritated and begin lecturing you on how bad cats are for the bird population and telling you to keep track of your cat better.
Scenario 1: You feel defensive- it was a total accident and you think this guy is overreacting and being rude to you. You dismiss what he says.
Scenario 2: You recognize you’re feeling defensive and want to avoid being blamed for this situation. However, you can also empathize with your neighbor caring about something (the birds). You decide to see him as a teacher and listen to what he is saying in order to learn. This action opens you up to information you find really interesting and appreciate– despite not appreciating how it was delivered in the moment.
You have been in your current industry for ten years and are very good at what you do. A new hire has been assigned as your shadow to learn from you.
Not long after meeting them, you notice how precocious they are and that they believe they know a great deal about their new job already.
At first this annoys you and you find yourself ignoring what they say or interrupting them to correct them. However, after a few days you realize this negative response to them is coming from a personal attachment to being an expert, and that they may be wanting to show you their competence.
You realize that this new person could have fresh perspectives that haven’t occurred to you.
You begin listening to them with more curiosity and an urge to learn, which not only improves your relationship but ends up leading to new ideas.
After we’re feeling curious, we can sharpen our ability to focus and stay present…
…by partaking in practices that enhance our capacity for Presence. This includes things like mindfulness exercises, meditations, cultivating awe, and philosophical inquiry. These practices are things you integrate into your life more broadly as it can be a bit more challenging to integrate them directly into the process of conversation.
Sure, you could conceivably ask to take a moment and do a body scan intermittently throughout your chat.
And, let’s be honest- this could probably be awkward (and not to mention disrupt the flow of your conversation and end up creating more disconnection than connection).
Ironically, doing these practices that enhance your overall ability to focus in the midst of conversation could actually remove you from the situation and distract you!
So instead, we recommend including a short mindfulness meditation as a daily practice.
Research shows that over time this can lead to increased ability to focus, overall stress reduction, increased resilience and regulation, a calmer nervous system, and reduction in anxiety and depression (just to name a few!) and may even reduce implicit biases1.
- Mindfulness Body Scan
- Mindfulness 10 minute Daily Meditation
- Mindfulness Breathing Exercises
- Presence Philosophical Inquiries
With a mindfulness practice in the works, regulation is made more possible.
Regulation is essential to operating from our cerebral cortex and accessing our higher-level reasoning, which is requisite for absorbing to our greatest capacity.
Read on to the next step in the Intrapersonal stage to learn about regulation!
In Review; How to become Absorbent:
- Cultivate Curiosity by being thorough in the ‘Foundational Stage’
- Monitor and question your biases so you don’t block things out
- Try to shift your perspective
- Establish what you both agree on so you won’t have to ‘read their mind’
- Enhance your ability to focus and be aware
- Begin a daily meditation practice
- Use mindfulness practices daily
- Engage in some philosophical inquiry
- Learn how to Regulate your emotions
- Try preventive strategies like taking care of your physiological and emotional needs
- Try responsive strategies like noticing where the emotion is in your body and labeling it, taking a few deep breaths, and setting boundaries.
Absorbing in Action
At work one of the colleagues on your team submitted a project for your review. You’re having a meeting with them over lunch to give them feedback. You’re halfway into your allotted time and your colleague has barely paused to stop talking about an experience they’re having with another co-worker. While that is important to address, you’re having a hard time transitioning the conversation to the feedback on their project.
Finally, when they pause to take a drink you interrupt, “Hey, apologies for changing the topic — I’m noticing we’re running short on time and I’d like to talk about your proposal. I recognize that this situation with Arthur is challenging and I’d be happy to set up another time for us to discuss options. How does that sound?”
They hesitate a moment and then bring up why the Arthur situation is important to them.
You take a moment to consider the information available to you and let it sink in.
Them: Your colleague is prioritizing another conversation. That could mean many things- maybe the issue with Arthur IS more pressing than this feedback, at least in their eyes. Maybe they are nervous about the feedback and are intentionally (or unintentionally) avoiding that conversation.
You: You’re feeling a lot of pressure to get the project moving forward. It is interfering with your ability to really listen to what they’re sharing about their relationship with Arthur.
The Environment: You have limited time, this is in the middle of the work day, you’re at a casual restaurant during a time frame of the day that is typically a break and not “work time.” This may feel less formal and be setting a tone different from what’s ideal for this particular colleague. Also, you’re reacting to the short time frame allotted with stress.
Letting all that information land, you choose to do a brief regulation (you choose tuning into your senses and becoming more physically present) and re-enter the conversation with more curiosity.
**We go over Regulation in our Factors of Listening page here and explain how it shows up specifically in Better Listening here, so we will keep our explanation relatively brief on this page. If you have yet to read those pages, please visit them to learn the fundamentals of regulation and why it is important. Being the ability to monitor and manage our emotions, regulation is enabled by mindfulness practices, intentionality, and self awareness.
Practicing regulation results in increased resiliency because it enhances our coping skills every time we engage in it. By confronting our discomfort and consciously acknowledging it and allowing it to exist, we teach ourselves that discomfort is not a dangerous thing that must be avoided. On the other hand, if we experience discomfort in conversations (or life generally for that matter) and instead choose to ignore, override, or in any way attempt to escape from the discomfort, we affirm that the discomfort is a threat and further entrench our habits of avoiding it. When we determine to ignore our emotional discomfort rather than address it, we leave the problem to repeat itself again in the future.
Regulation is a lot like self-empathy. Empathy has the power to settle the amygdala back down and return us to executive functioning. Check out the Empathy section below.
As listed in our Better Listening section on Regulation, there are a wide range of techniques you can use to center yourself when you’re experiencing agitation. Mindfulness, first and foremost, has a huge impact!
Mindfulness practices integrated into our daily lives influence our ability to stay regulated, empower us to choose to regulate, and increase our effectiveness in regulating.
Regulation in Action
You work in customer service at a phone service company. A customer calls about an unexpected charge to their account and is extremely upset. In attempting to resolve the issue you see that a promotion they had ended and their charge increased. When you explain this, the customer becomes outraged and starts accusing you of scamming them. They tell you you need to figure it out and continue to berate you.
You’ve already had a tough day and having a stranger be ugly to you isn’t helping. You find yourself feeling defensive but know you cannot talk back to this person and tell them they’re out of line and that this isn’t your fault, as that could cost you your job. You begin to grow quiet in response to their accusations and anger, while you’re boiling inside yourself.
You decide you need to regulate so you can handle this conversation. You let the customer know they’re going to be put on a brief hold while you try to resolve the issue. Once they’re on hold, you stand up and walk outside.
Outside you take a few deep, slow breaths. You stretch your arms and back, and look around. Noticing the tension in your chest, you label it as frustration and anger, and remind yourself that it is normal and okay to feel that way. You also take a second to acknowledge that the feeling will eventually pass.
Why are you so riled? You wonder. You consider that it is challenging to handle irate customers misdirecting their emotions at you, when you’re doing your best to help. Maybe this job is not a fit and the frustration has been building up.
It’s been a few minutes now and you need to return to the call. You feel calmer and more capable although the frustration is still there.
**We go over Empathy in our Styles of Listening page here and explain how it shows up specifically in Better Listening here, so we will keep our explanation relatively brief on this page. If you have yet to read those pages, please visit them to learn the fundamentals of empathy and why it is important.
In Elevated Conversation we relate to our conversation partner with Compassionate Empathy, meaning we understand their emotional experience and feel moved to support them. This support does not necessarily mean agreeing with them or physically helping them- rather, it is emotional support. Compassionate empathizing is different from solely mentally or emotionally understanding them, in that it combines both mental and emotional relating and includes concern.
Most of us empathize naturally. We connect to what someone is telling us about their life and recall feeling similarly ourselves, thus generating understanding through shared reality. In throes of conversation, it is a matter of reminding ourselves to connect with and relate to their story without losing our grounding and becoming distracted by our own experience. If we do get distracted, we may need to practice regulation to re-center ourselves.
Dr. Eliot Cohen from Psychology Today excellently describes this balancing act in empathizing:
“…if you are preoccupied with your own personal life issues then you are not likely to get close enough to the subjective world of the target to empathize with the target about her issues. On the other hand, if you become too personally involved in that subjective world, you will lose the Rogerian ‘as if’—thereby eviscerating the distinction between yourself and the other. Thus, the key to resonating with the target’s subjective world is to avoid both extremes.”
Just like with the absorb step, empathizing is enhanced by practices we engage with more generally in our lives that influence how we show up in conversation rather than in the moment action steps. For example, having a compassionate meditation practice like Tonglen engages your empathy skills. Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation in which you imagine receiving the suffering of others and send them relief in return.
Empathizing with yourself is also essential throughout the course of conversation and serves as a self-regulating practice. Reminding yourself that you are human, your emotions are normal, and your experience is valid* is a great way to help you stay centered.
*’Valid’ does not necessarily mean ‘right’. In the same way that recognizing someone else’s experience is valid doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, giving yourself permission to have your own experience is not a question of ethics: right and wrong, good and bad aren’t a part of this equation.
Try It Out
Reflect: Think back to the last emotional conversation you had. Take a moment to imagine being there. Before reflecting, practice some self-empathy: take a deep breath, remind yourself that you are no longer there, know that your experience was (and is valid), and allow yourself to feel love towards your wellbeing. After this, consider the following:
- Can you think of an instance that you felt compassionate empathy towards your conversation partner? Describe it in detail. If you did not, what things do you imagine interfered with that?
- Think of an instance in which you or your conversation partner struggled to understand the other. Now imagine that the person struggling to understand goes through the compassionate empathy steps. How might that have changed what happened next?
- If there had been less empathy in this conversation overall, what might it have looked like? Likewise, what would it have looked like with less?
- Were there parts of empathizing that your struggled with specifically? What were they and what was difficult about them?
- What lessons can you glean about compassionate empathy from this conversation and how can you apply them in the future?
Practice: Find a friend or family member you are comfortable with and know is willing to make space to for emotional experiences (not someone who will joke around or gloss over feelings- choose someone who will take emotions seriously). Go through the following exercise with them:
- Ask them to tell a short story about a recent time they felt heightened emotions (this can be positive or negative or mixed). Ask them to go into detail about how they felt, what they thought, what they anticipated or wanted. Prompt them to go on until you both feel they have shared enough to understand the whole picture.
- While they are sharing, put yourself in their position and imagine their experience. Have you felt the way they are describing feeling in your past? Allow yourself to feel that for a moment without losing track of the present moment.
- When they have finished sharing, sit together in silence for two minutes. Yes, two whole minutes! During this time, respond to them with compassionate empathy, WITHOUT using words. Do this by allowing yourself to feel empathic concern for their experience- and this can apply to both positive and negative emotions. Imagine yourself radiating love, concern, and/or confidence towards them.
- Should words need to be exchanged at the end of the two minutes, you may do so.
- Switch roles and repeat. While being empathized with during the two minutes of silence, imagine yourself receiving the other person’s compassion.
- At the end of the exercise, reflect on what was challenging, what went well, and how you can apply this to future interactions.
Practice: Go where you haven’t gone before… Think of a group of people you do not know very well or understand deeply. Then choose to take a walk in their shoes. Go to a mosque, church, or other religious service you have not experienced before or know very little about. Volunteer at a soup kitchen for the weekend and consciously engage with the people who are using the services provided.
Compassionate Empathy in Action
A friend of yours has confided in you that she is pregnant. She has wanted to have a family for her entire life and it has been challenging for her to conceive. You, on the other hand, are not interested in having children and the thought of pregnancy makes you anxious.
Her: “Hey, I’ve got really exciting news to share with you… is now a good time?”
You: “Yeah, of course. What’s going on?”
Her: “Well, I’ve known for about a week and you’re not supposed to share for a bit longer, but I really want you to know. I’m finally pregnant.”
You notice a bit of panic arise in you, and recognize that it is a personal association with the idea of pregnancy. You want to connect with your friend on their terms right now instead of getting carried away with your own emotional reaction. You take a moment to acknowledge your reaction and validate it for yourself, then refocus on your friend. You know you can come back to your emotions later if you need to.
You imagine the feeling of having a life-long dream coming to realization. The expanding sense of love and possibility. The scary and exciting unknowns, and the context of your future shifting enormously. You see your friend’s smile and allow that excitement to permeate yourself as well. You feel moved to celebrate with her.
The Intrapersonal Stage Summary
To Do It:
- Familiarize yourself with the three realms of information you can be aware of and pay attention to (Self, Other, Environmental Influences). Integrate mindfulness practices into your daily routine.
- Regulate when you notice yourself emotionally reacting to something in or outside of the conversation or environment.
- Consciously compassionately empathize with your conversation partner(s) throughout the conversation by emotionally relating to their experience.
To Help You Do It:
- Relevant P & E pages
- External Resources
- Lueke, Adam & Gibson, Bryan. (2014). Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 6. 10.1177/1948550614559651.