[Sincere, interested. I wonder how he’s getting on. Perhaps I can offer him some support]
“I’d like to arrange a chat with you about that project you’re running”
[Feeling anxious, hurt. People have been talking about me. I’m sure this is part of it. She’s going to accuse me of something, I can feel it]
(aggressively) “Why? What do you want to know?”
[Surprised. Wow, he seems very defensive. Can’t he see I’m trying to help him? Feeling hurt now. I’m not sure I can count on his support. And I wonder if there’s something he’s hiding from me]
“I’m starting to worry about whether everything’s going ok.”
[Suspicious, wary. See, I was right. I’m going to have to watch my back. I won’t tell her about the difficulties I’ve been having getting this all done in time]
“Everything’s fine. And I’m really busy. Let’s wait a couple of weeks and I’ll speak with you then.”
[Feeling anxious. I’m really going to have to keep an eye on him]
[Feeling anxious. I’m really going to have to find a way to stay out of her way]
Can you see where the trouble starts? How quickly both are swept up in it? The silent part each person’s inner critic plays behind the surface of the conversation? And how each person’s certainty about what’s happening quickly spins this conversation from sincerity to distrust? From contact to distance?
Stepping out of a cycle of mutual suspicion and hurt requires that we learn to spot our own inner critic at work so we project it less often onto others. That we remember that trust is created precisely by extending trust, and not by setting up constant tests that others must pass.
And it requires we hold our certainties very lightly indeed. Then we give ourselves a chance of finding out what’s actually happening when we’re in the complex, possibility filled dance of conversation with another person.