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Responding to Someone Fighting for a Cause

You value listening so you try to stay with the person who is telling you about their cause.  At the same time you notice that they are making assumptions about what you know or don't know and about the choices you make.  It seems like you are being talked at rather than talked with; that they are ranting at you.  You try to speak up, but the other person talks louder and faster than you and doesn't seem to notice that you would like to participate.  You start to feel disconnected and a bit irritated because you would like mutuality and consideration.  Someone else comes over and interrupts and with much relief you take the opportunity to exit the interaction and dash across the room.

If this is a familiar scenario for you, then you might like some more options about approaching these kinds of interactions.  Let's look at three aspects to consider:

  1. Track Your Reactivity.

  2. Attend to your own experience and interrupt

  3. Connect about it when it's not happening

Track Your Reactivity

In the face of someone talking about their cause and not meeting your needs for mutuality and consideration, you might become foggy and disconnected from your sense of choice or you might get angry and start to challenge and argue.  Take time to reflect on similar situations from the past and describe your own reactive pattern.  Name as many details as you can.  What happens in your body, thoughts, feelings, impulses, and energy?  What do you start to believe about yourself or the other person in that moment? Passivity, is a form of reactivity that can sometimes get confused with "staying calm".  Challenge yourself to take a closer look.  The more familiar you are with the symptoms of reactivity in yourself the easier it will be to stay self connected.  

Attend to your own experience and interrupt

Ideally, as soon as you notice you are not enjoying the conversation, attend to your own experience and then interrupt the other person to say what's true for you.  Your honest expression might sound like any of the following:

  • You might say what you are about to do or what you want in the moment, "I am going to go check in with my friend Amy now."  "I am ready to get off the phone now and return to my work."  "I would like to just listen to the birds as we walk."

  • If you are more invested in the relationship, you might share more vulnerably,  "Hang on, I am wanting to connect and this isn't so connecting.  I am willing to talk about this and I want it to be mutual.  Would you be willing to hear what's up for me around this topic?"  Or "I notice I am feeling reactive and I don't trust that I can respond in a way that would be helpful.  Let's continue this conversation tomorrow at lunch."

  • If you have a specific role with this person, you might speak directly from that purpose, "My role here is to help you get the information you need.  Would you be willing to tell me your specific request right now?"

  • If you would like to create more connection through empathy, interrupt with your honest expression about your intention to connect, then offer an empathy guess, "Hang on, could you pause, I want to connect to what you're saying.  In sharing this, I wonder if you are feeling grief and concern and really want to make a difference with your contribution?"

All these types of responses come from grounded self-connection and clarity about your needs and desires in the moment.  As you manage your own reactivity, you may not have the resources to interrupt the other person in a helpful way.  In this case, give yourself permission to stop listening even though you may still be standing there looking at the other person.  

Attend to your own experience.  Start by engaging in whatever grounding practice you have such as attending to your breath, feeling the bottom of your feet, repeating a prayer or mantra, etc.  Then ask yourself some questions:


  • Am I reacting?

  • What am I telling myself right now?

  • What do I really want right now?

  • Do I want to connect with this person or not?

    • If yes, do I want to interrupt to offer honest expression or empathy?

    • If no, what is alive for me right now?

Connect about it when it's not happening

If you do want to cultivate and maintain a connection with this person, it is sometimes easier to address the difficult interaction at another time when you have a sense of connection and rapport.  Bringing up anything from the past can sometimes trigger defensiveness for the other person, so it's helpful to state your intention first.  Perhaps it sounds something like this, "Remember the other night when we were waiting for the concert to start, and you were talking about electric cars?  I am wanting some connection around that interaction.  Are you up for talking about it?"

Then you might continue either with empathy or honest expression.  It's helpful to have some possible requests already in mind.  Here are some examples of requests that could help create mutuality and consideration in the next conversation:

  • "Next time, would you be willing to ask me if I want to hear about that topic before you start telling me about it?"

  • "Would you be willing to take ten minutes now and hear what comes up for me about this topic?"

  • "Would you be willing to find others to talk with about that who share your interest?"

  • "When you talk about that topic next time, would you be willing to ask me how what you are saying is landing for me?"

  • "When you see my hand on my heart, would you be willing to pause and ask me how I am doing?"

  • "The next time the topic comes up would you be willing to ask yourself to use the same voice volume that we are using now?"

  • "When you see me raise my hand, would you be willing to pause and hear what's coming up for me?"

  • "Would you be willing to offer a suggestion about how the conversation could have more mutuality and consideration next time?"

You do not need to assess whether the other person is reactive or apply any other label.  What's important is staying grounded in your experience so that you can respond authentically.


Take a moment now to set your intention to engage in your grounding practice the next time you encounter a challenging interaction.  If you have a guess about with whom that interaction might be, imagine the situation vividly, focusing especially on the grounding practice and your authentic response.

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Reactivity & Fighting for Your Cause

4 Responses

  1. Feb 09, 2017
    Frank J Pacosa

    Beautifully said as per your usual. Thank you for giving us the words to find liberation from suffering.

  2. Feb 10, 2017

    Thank you for this. I find myself in this situation frequently.

  3. Feb 10, 2017

    Thanks so much Frank. I am happy to be a part of this greater community with you!

  4. Feb 10, 2017

    Your welcome Karen, thanks for letting me know it was helpful :)

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