Healing, Step Three - Listen

“We must acknowledge the wisdom of those excluded from and exploited by the system, who possess exactly the perspective and wisdom needed to fix it.” (From “Seven Steps to Healing” by

Edgar Villanueva in

Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides, 2nd edition, © 2021, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc, Oakland, CA
)On to Listening! In Step One, we let our grieving show us all that needed attention to heal our relationship. In Step Two, we stepped away from ego and re-humanized the other person. Now we are ready to listen with a lot less interference from defensiveness and self-protection. If our dialogue has made it this far, we can hear and say the hard things.

As a reminder, Edgar Villanueva’s model of healing is directed at the philanthropic and financial system. We are following those lines to interpersonal healing, so things are slightly different. The person with whom we are attempting a healing dialogue may or may not have experienced “exploitation.” “Exclusion” may or may not feel like too heavy handed a term.

At the same time, if there is a rift between us, “community” has been fractured or broken in some way. In relationship, we are connected. In conflict we are, at varying levels, cut off from one another, (excluded.)

Take It In With the thorough exploration of grieving our hurts and apologizing for our missteps as a foundation, we are now ready to listen to the ways that the other person has felt cut off. Listen for the wisdom the other person brings in terms of what needs to change in order to heal the relationship. Their experience contains important information that you will not understand unless you clear your own ego and woundedness to hear it.

Offer the gift you want to receive by listening well. Don’t be afraid of the hurt and discomfort that might come. Center yourself. Get off your last nerve.Trust your body to be able to hold the emotions that will come. They are there to better inform you.

More Apologies, and Twisty Shame As you listen deeply to the other person’s experience, you might find shame welling up in you. It might come as an urgency to make the conversation stop. It might come as defensiveness. These are understandable responses, but un-useful. These are about you. If you’re listening well, you need to be about the other person.

You are likely to gain an even deeper understanding of how you have negatively affected the other person. You will probably have more apologies to offer. Stay mindful though - The first time you apologize for something, it’s for the other person. If you find yourself re-apologizing for the same thing more than once, those apologies are for you. You are trying to feel better about yourself. The other person is under no obligation to absolve you, forgive you or make you feel better about your harmful choices.

That’s work for you to do on your own.

You are coming into the awareness of your guilt. That’s good information. You behaved in a way that doesn’t sit well with you and you want to make changes so that you don’t keep doing that thing. This has nothing to do with your quality and worth as a human being. As Maya Angelou wrote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, once you know better, do better.” Shame is nonsense. Don’t waste time with it. Make change!

XYZ and Reflective Listening To do Step 3 well, I strongly recommend that you share the things you need to say in what I call the“XYZ” format. “When you X (identify behavior from your perspective, making room for the other person to see it differently,) it leaves me feeling Y (feeling labels, not thoughts,) and I would prefer that you Z, (a request for specific behavior change.)

When the other person has shared something with you, repeat back to them what you thought you heard. Try not to just parrot the words, but summarize in a way that shows you’ve understood without leaving out anything important. We tend to assume that we heard what the person intended, but we are sometimes importantly wrong. Fact checking what we think they are saying is important to healing communication.

If both people have focused on listening well to the other person, you will both hear, and be heard. Trade roles listening and speaking until you come to a better understanding of the other person.

Diagnostic Breakdown You might find that one person is able to manage these first three steps and one person is not. Without these foundational steps, any work you do moving forward will end up right back here again. You really can’t skip steps and expect to work issues all the way through.

Sometimes people can do the steps, but doing these first three will dredge up stuff they need to deal with before they can move forward with you. They might not be ready. If you have it in you to be patient, you can come back to it later. If you don’t have the spoons for it, or don’t have a reasonable hope that the person will one day adequately engage the healing conversation, accept the limited connectedness of that relationship.

You might be okay with having the person as an acquaintance, but no further. The dialogue may have revealed to you that you have incompatible terms for relationship, and part ways. If you do what is healthiest for you, it will be healthiest for the other person, even if they don’t like it.

Coming Up… In our next blog, we will move onto “Relate.” This is the part where we work together to create a hospitable environment in the relationship that accommodates all that you’ve learned together in steps 1-3. Stay tuned!