Episode 11: Sitting with Not Knowing


Connecting Across Differences is a podcast by Dian Killian, Ph.D. of Work Collaboratively about having greater empathy for yourself and others, and how to hear others more deeply and make sure that you’ve been heard.  Episodes are also available on iTunes.

Listen to Episode 11:

Sitting with not knowing is the opposite of reactivity.  I don’t think it comes easily for us because when we’re triggered, we want immediate relief.  We want to be heard, we want understanding, respect, and whatever other needs are up for us, and we want it now! And it doesn’t help when we think it’s the other person’s fault — that they are the cause of our hurt, pain, disappointment, anxiety or fear.

This is why the act of holding our own needs with care internally (otherwise known as self-empathy) is a key practice in NVC. We need to hold that space internally for ourselves to be able to tolerate sitting with not knowing. We need to hold that space to have the capacity (even while triggered) to muster curiosity; to find a way to inquire (even silently): “What is going on for that other person?” And we often need to wait for our turn. That really takes skill!

If we are the one with NVC experience, we often are in the role of mediating a conversation for both parties — us, and the other person. Once the other person is heard, will they have the capacity and space to hear me? My trust (experience) in the process says, YES! And there is still part of me, that part that I am holding with tenderness internally, that must (if I trust the process) also sit at least for a moment or some minutes, or sometimes even weeks, sit with not knowing.

In effect, this “not knowing” — and the capacity to sit with it and tolerate it — is what opens up the space for new creative solutions. If we already knew everything and had it all figured out, what new can emerge? When I am in judgment, there is a big fat zero possibility. I’ve already decided that the situation is useless, and the person impossible. So if I am bought into these stories, what room is there for possibility and change? “Not knowing” holds the actual space for empathy.

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First published December 17, 2018.