Ep 22: Argue with your partner like a Buddhist (Ft Cynthia Kane)

Published on Feb 10, 2023

About our guest, Cynthia Kane:

After the death of her first love, all Cynthia wanted was for someone to take away all the hurt and pain. What she realized, though, as she sat on her floor surrounded by tissues, was that she was going to have to find a way to do it for herself. Through this search, she found that communication was key. If she wanted to change the way she lived in the world she would have to change how she interacted with it, which meant changing how she talked with others and herself.

When she learned the elements of Right Speech in Buddhism she knew she’d found her way out of suffering,
yet she had no idea how actually to put the guidelines into practice, and so began her lifestyle experiment. And soon, the Kane Intentional Communication Practice was born. This practice has now been taught to more than 60k people and is changing marriages, work environments, family dynamics, friendships – lives. She also shares her work in her books:

Scroll down to redeem the free course “Communicate with Confidence” by Cynthia Kane.


[00:00:00] Kai Xin: Welcome to another episode of the Handful Of Leaves podcast, where we bring you practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life.

Today, we’re really happy to have Cynthia Kane with us, an author of many books, one of them is “How to Communicate Like A Buddhist” and we are gonna talk about a topic that is quite interesting. It’s about how you argue like a Buddhist. I guess as Buddhists we don’t really think of arguing, but in life sometimes we just don’t see eye to eye with people. So it is quite inevitable that we have to resolve certain conflicts. And I know Cynthia, you have done a lot of great work connecting to the heart with people about how they can show up better in life, in different aspects, in order to really succeed and to live life a lot happier.

So perhaps we can start off with you introducing to our audience, how did you get into this line of work in communications.

[00:00:53] Cynthia: Well, thank you so much for having me here. I’m happy to spend this time with you. So, I got into this work because when I was younger, I thought I really wanted to grow up and help people communicate in a kind, honest and helpful way. I didn’t even know that it was a possible thing.

I used to be very passive-aggressive, very judgmental and very reactionary. Everything for me was either the best possible scenario or the worst possible scenario, and silence was really difficult for me to be in.

I liked to fill the space and just expressing myself was really, really difficult. I had a tendency to dance around certain topics as opposed to feeling confident enough, really to express myself clearly. So I didn’t realize though that the way that I was communicating or interacting was creating a lot of the doubt, fear and worry that I had.

So, Albert Einstein said, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is — Is the world a friendly place? And I feel like whether I knew it or not, I didn’t actually feel that the world was a friendly place. And I had been with my first love for about seven and a half years. And we had decided to go our separate directions and we thought that the universe would bring us back together. And it did bring us back together four years later. And we met and we had a great conversation about what didn’t really work in our relationship. And one of the biggest pieces was communication.

And we decided we wanted to try and be in each other’s lives again. And then four months later, he passed away unexpectedly. And my whole world at that moment just went blank. I was just completely empty. I often liken it to just being like a blank canvas. It was like everything that was there before was just washed away.

And it was then that I realized that nobody could help me at that moment. Everybody was so lovely and kind and supportive, but it was just me alone, and I felt like if I was going to figure out how to be here and enjoy my life here, or time here, it was my responsibility. And so that’s when I went on the search to figure out how to enjoy being here and what I was finding with the seminars I was going to and the books that I was reading and the courses I was taking and everything was that communication was a big part of it, but I wasn’t actually learning how to communicate differently.

And a friend of mine introduced me to a writing and meditation workshop at the Shambala Institute in New York. At that point, I didn’t really know much about Buddhism. I had never meditated before and I was trying everything. When I went that weekend, it completely shifted everything for me. So that’s where I learned the elements of Right Speech in Buddhism, which the way I teach it is, to tell the truth, don’t exaggerate. Use helpful language and don’t gossip. And when I learned those plus meditation, it was my way out. Like I knew that this was how I was going to be able to move myself out of this place of suffering.

So with meditation, for me, the big piece was that it was the first time I was really allowing myself to be myself in this moment, right? To feel all the anger and the fear and the overwhelm, and at the same time hold space for such beauty in life. And it was just like an amazing experience to not judge myself through all of it.

And then with the elements of right speech, I was like, this is it. Because if I wanna change the way that I’m interacting with the world, I have to change the way I interact with the people within it. But then to really be able to change the way that I interact with people, I have to change how I interact with myself.

Then I woke up the next day, ‘This is lovely, but how do I do this?’. And then it became a practice for me. It became like a lifestyle experiment to practice communicating differently, and this is really how this all came to be.

I started communicating differently with myself. It shifted the way that I communicated with others. I started writing about it, wrote how to communicate like a Buddhist, and then started teaching about it. So the shifts that were happening in my life in terms of being able to express myself more clearly and consciously, to have more open relationships where I could actually be honest for the first time and not necessarily fear the other person’s reaction, being able to find love again. I mean, all these things were happening as a result of living each day with this practice. And then it started kind of rippling out and other people were being affected by it too. Then I started courses and training and all of that.

And so that’s really how I got here to this moment with you. So it’s been pretty wild.

[00:06:00] Kai Xin: Thanks for sharing your journey. You turned a negative circumstance into something so beautiful right now helping people. I’m so happy for you.

You mentioned something about how you communicate with yourself and how to communicate differently. Could you share some examples of the before and after? How did it shift?

[00:06:20] Cynthia: This is a very simple example, but before, I could drop a piece of paper on the ground or I could open the refrigerator and something would fall out, or I would be pouring some tea and water would splash over to the side and my reaction would be, you’re so stupid. Like, why did you do this? Or I can’t believe you did this. Now you’re gonna have to like go get paper towels. It’s gonna take you so much time and you have other things that you wanna be doing. It was just this, this voice that was just constantly upset at myself or judging myself for every little thing.

Whereas now, I can drop something and it’s just like, oh, I dropped something on the floor. It’s not good. It’s not bad. I’m not a bad person for it.

[00:07:05] Kai Xin: It’s just what it is.

[00:07:06] Cynthia: It’s just what it is. And it’s really understanding the idea of allowing things to be as they are, without judgment.

So, being really honest with ourselves and kind and helpful as opposed to where we usually go, which is not very kind and hurtful, and most of the way we talk to ourselves is an assumption, right? We don’t know a lot of the things that we worry about or fear. And a lot of the way that most people that we’ve worked with talk to themselves has to do with the things that they don’t know.

And so if you start to filter it through like, well, do you know this is true? It changes how you connect with yourself.

[00:07:52] Cheryl: Just really curious. Have you ever wondered where that voice of criticism comes from?

[00:07:58] Cynthia: I believe that the voice comes from past experiences that we have.

Other times where people have maybe labelled us as certain things when we’re young, whether people realize it or not. If somebody is like you’re shy or, you could be better at math, these are all things that we absorb. So I really believe it’s past experiences and it’s also absorbing the models that we see around us.

Because when it comes to communication, we’re never taught how to communicate right? Especially to ourselves. And so we really absorb and learn from our parents, our siblings, our partners, our friends, and our teachers. Also, I feel a sense of lack or scarcity.

The idea is that there are not enough things to go around. And so a lot of the way we talk to ourselves is like, I don’t have enough time to do this, or, you know, I’ll never be able to, you know, [insert anything there]. And all that comes from just this feeling that there’s not enough when really we know that there’s plenty.

[00:09:09] Kai Xin: So it kind of feels like you first need to solve your internal conflict in order to then be able to solve the external ones.

[00:09:17] Cynthia: Yeah.

[00:09:18] Kai Xin: Could you give some examples of common communication patterns that would cause a conflict between you and your partner, or you and your loved ones?

[00:09:27] Cynthia: I think some conflict is when you have something you want to ask for that’s difficult. Like with affection. If you are interested in asking for more affection in your relationship, but you are scared to do that, the fear of the other person’s reaction is what holds us back from asking for what we want or expressing ourselves.

And so what ends up happening is that because we fear the other person’s reaction, we hold everything in. Then at some point, we all have a default reaction. So one person might start getting passive-aggressive, another person might start lashing out, another person might start just, you know, lying or dismissing the other.

So, the less we express ourselves, the more we fall into these habits of communicating that aren’t helpful and that are hurtful. So one of the big pieces is really just holding everything in because we’re scared of what the other person is going to say. And really the work is, to start to practice in those moments, being able to allow the other person to have whatever reaction. And seeing like, can we just celebrate reaction in general? Whether good or bad, can we hold space for it? And then can we learn how to navigate it?

And again, it’s internal what’s happening in those moments. You are talking to yourself differently in those moments so that you can actually express yourself differently.

So I think the other piece too, is then you have the opposite of that where some people in relationships are very direct and very honest, and people will use that phrase while I’m just being honest, right? Yeah. But it’s like, yes, you can be honest, but it might not be kind, it might not be helpful and it might not be necessary.

So if you have honesty without compassion it can hurt. But if there’s compassion there, it’s easier for the other person to hear. And so I think then the opposite of that, where in partnerships you have one person who may be too direct, and then so the other partner just shuts down completely.

So then how does the one who is more expressive learn in some situations to shift the way that they’re communicating so that they can create a more accessible space or a more open space? So I think those are the two most common patterns that are seen.

One has a difficult time expressing themselves, and then another has an easier time expressing themselves, but not in a way that they’re actually heard.

Does that make sense?

[00:12:08] Kai Xin: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. And it ties back to the sutta as well, the scripture on Right Speech (AN 5.198 Vācāsutta – Five factors of good speech). I guess besides being honest, and compassionate, it’s also very important to find the right time to do it. Whether people actually have the headspace to listen to what you want to say.

[00:12:24] Cynthia: Yeah. And I think that’s the other piece that happens too. A lot of times people will bring up really important conversations at the wrong time. Like when they see somebody else doing something, they’re being active and the other person wants to have a serious conversation, but the other person’s not gonna be able to respond at that moment.

Often when both people are heated and they both react, that’s also not the time to try to make things better often. At that moment it really is about how can I just calm this situation so that then we can maybe have a conversation at another point.

So, I think that that’s a really great point, and it has a lot to do with being available, to be present.

[00:13:08] Cheryl: Can I just dive a little bit deeper here? Because for me, I think it’s a very difficult balancing act to be direct, state what you want, state your boundaries in certain cases and be compassionate. Could you share an example of how we could perhaps soften the blow by providing feedback or asking for boundaries?

[00:13:28] Cynthia: I love that you used the word soften because that’s actually the practice itself of being in those difficult interactions to be able to express yourself in a compassionate way. But the actual work is to meet the person where they are at.

And see if you can move the conversation forward. So you know, if you are trying to say that, you would really like for the other person to take the trash out, let’s just say like a small example, right? You’re really going to them and saying, you know when you don’t take the trash out, I feel…

It’s based on feeling. So I feel frustrated, I feel confused, I feel misunderstood. And we all have two core feelings, which almost everything comes down to. So, it doesn’t matter the scenario, you will likely feel those two core feelings. My core feelings are stupid and invisible.

So with most things, like if there is an interaction that’s difficult, I’m feeling stupid or I’m feeling invisible, and when we understand that feeling, then we can actually express ourselves and speak because then we can say, you know, “When you don’t take the trash out, I feel invisible. You know, I know that that’s not your intention. Next week could we make it so that Monday and Wednesday you take the trash out and then Tuesday and Friday I take the trash out?” And then the other person will say, “Yes, I can do that.” And you’re like, “Great!” Or they can say, “No, I can’t do that.” And then you have the information to then decide, “Can I be okay with this?”

See also  How a monk’s one word saved my marriage

Like really, honestly okay with it to the point where it’s not something I talk to other people about, it’s not something I feel frustrated about, but it’s something that I can truly let go of and be like, okay, they just can’t commit to that right now and I’m okay with that.

My husband does not like to make the bed when we first started seeing each other. And I really like to have the bed made, so I asked him in the same way, “When you don’t make the bed, I feel invisible. Could you make the bed at least twice a week?” To which he responded at that time, “I’m not able to do that.”

And I was like, okay. So I was aware that he was not going to do it.

So I can either take that and be okay. Or maybe that’s a deal breaker for me, or maybe that’s something that I need to have another conversation about. But what’s also very interesting is that now he does.

[00:16:05] Cheryl: So what’s the secret there? What made him change from ‘no’ to ‘yes’?

[00:16:11] Cynthia: I think what he realized was that it was important to me. And I think that even though he said he wasn’t able to do it, I think he saw that for me, it was something that was important and I guess that’s why he chose to change. I mean, I don’t know why, but I’m happy that it happened.

[00:16:28] Cheryl: It seems that you were able to communicate the underlying need for the bit to be tidy, so it becomes something that’s more than just a chore, but more of like responding to your need.

Something that stood out to me here was how your request was very specific. You mentioned the frequency, how many times a week and the specific action that your partner could do. So I thought that was pretty cool and I am, again, very curious. How do you get to know your two core emotions?

[00:16:55] Cynthia: So to understand your two core emotions, if you think back on the last conversations or interactions you’ve had that have been difficult for you, where you went to your default reaction. So default reactions being like we can shut down, we can lash out, get passive-aggressive, dodge or walk away. We all have one that’s dominant and then it kind of dominoes the rest.

So if you think of an instance where you had that, then the idea is to sit and then think about what was I really feeling in that moment. This is what happened. What happened was he didn’t take the trash out, but what was truly happening like this seed, right? Was I feeling stupid? Most people will go to feeling angry or frustrated and yes, those are emotions. Though they’re very superficial and anybody can feel those things. And what you are really looking for is you, Cheryl, like, what is yours that’s just like specific to you.

And it takes a while. It might not be something that you can just pinpoint now. But what you’ll notice is that anytime you have a difficult interaction, it’s the same, like it’s the same feeling that’s there.

[00:18:12] Cheryl: Kai Xin any idea? What are your two core feelings?

[00:18:16] Kai Xin: It’s an interesting question. So I’m trying to recount some of the difficult conversations I have with people and the words that I repeatedly mentioned as to why I’m feeling upset. I think it boils down to feeling accused. So every time I feel accused, I would feel really triggered and really hurt by it.

[00:18:37] Cynthia: So when you’re in a conversation if you were to say, ‘I feel accused’, the other person may be distracted by that word. That word might prevent them from listening. So if you think underneath that, what is the feeling of feeling accused? As you feel at fault, you feel guilty, you feel …

[00:19:01] Kai Xin: not really so much of guilt. But just misunderstood.

[00:19:05] Cynthia: Well, so misunderstood is like, that’s a good one. Cause I think that if you look back at your other interactions, it could be there as well.

[00:19:14] Kai Xin: So you’re saying that the words that we choose to express our emotions and let the other party know is also very important because it affects the way that they receive it.

[00:19:23] Cynthia: A hundred percent yes.

[00:19:24] Kai Xin: Because accused is a very strong word. And then they might jump to a conclusion or assumption that …

[00:19:29] Cheryl: they are the ones who are accused. Yeah.

[00:19:31] Cynthia: Yeah. So you know, in like meditation when there’s like that moment where you get distracted and then you come back. So in conversation, it’s the same thing.

Sometimes we use language that distracts, that takes people out of what we want them to be paying attention to. And especially in a difficult interaction when you are expressing something to somebody and asking for them to potentially change or asking for a situation to be different. It’s important to use language that is going to keep them present instead of getting them going in their self-talk. The self-talk of like, I can’t believe this person thinks that. Why in the world would she say that to me?

And so the core feelings, when you have them, like the misunderstood piece, let’s just say, when you share that, that feels very different, right? The other person can be able to see that an action that they’ve done is affecting you. And most people care for each other. And so when they hear that something that they’re doing is affecting a person that they care for, the want is to be helpful. Because that’s our true nature. Our true nature is to be helpful.

[00:20:49] Kai Xin: And how do you argue, well, such that it doesn’t come across as being too demanding? Because just now you mentioned about making the bed. It can seem like it’s just a very small thing. Why are you throwing a big fuzz out of it? What if people can’t see the connection between how a small task actually linked to a deeper sense of wanting to be seen, wanting to, in your case to not feel invisible?

[00:21:15] Cynthia: Yeah. So I think it has to do again with, you come to, let’s say the task and it doesn’t come out as, can you, can you make the bed? this has been something that bothers me and annoys me. Could you make the bed? That’s very different than if you’re having more of a conversation and you’re like, oh, hey, I’ve been thinking about it. And you know, when you don’t make the bed, I feel really invisible. I know that’s not your intention, but the next time, would you be able to commit to making the bed on Mondays and Wednesdays?

And it’s really that same phrasing over and over that you’re using because the focus isn’t on the other person. Because what we end up starting to see as we start to practice more around this type of communication, which is really to help ourselves and others suffer less, is that most of the work is us figuring out what it is that we want, what it is that we need, and the focus is more on us than it is on the other person.

So it’s not on something that they did wrong, but it’s on something that we want and need to feel better and to thrive and for this relationship to grow and for this relationship to feel connected. And so all of that can be talked to. All of that can be said. It’s like, when you make the bed, I just wanna run over there, give you a hug and a kiss and be like, gosh, that feels so good. You just filled my bucket up to a hundred percent. What can I do to fill up your bucket a hundred percent?

You turn something that could become an argument into something that’s like, when you do this, this is, this is the feeling it gives me and I love when I feel that way and I want that to be the way that you feel as well, instead of where we often go, which is more towards — what’s not happening, what should be happening, what we wish would be. It’s a different trajectory. Does that answer the question?

[00:23:12] Kai Xin: Yeah. Kind of. So it’s really about emphasizing why it matters to you, so you help them see the picture. I’m just wondering, what if the response or the reaction is not what we desire?

[00:23:25] Cynthia: I mean, most people want it to go well all the time, right? And that would be lovely if it did, but we cannot control another person. We can’t control their reactions. So, it’s practising detachment from the other person’s reactions. Being able to see them as separate from you so that you can hold space for them. So, in the moment, you express something and they are like, no, I can’t do that, or, that’s ridiculous, or I can’t even believe you’re asking me that. You are there and you’re not hooked into the language, but you’re just like, oh, I see this person that I care for, and they’re feeling uncomfortable right now. Like they’re suffering right now. They’re feeling hurt. They’ve moved into their default reaction because they’re feeling attacked by what I’m saying.

You witness it, you observe it, and you let them have it. And then when they’re finished with their reaction, you either come back to your original question that you were asking or you can connect in a different way, being able to say, I see that what I’ve said hurt you, or it feels to me that you’re upset in some way. I’d love to actually have a conversation about it, how did I say it that was affecting you. And so it opens up a dialogue.

But the practice in that moment is to be able to allow somebody to have a reaction. We want it to be good, we want the outcome to be what we want it to be, and also knowing that if it’s not, we can navigate it. If it’s not, it doesn’t mean that our value changes.

If it’s not, it doesn’t mean that the relationship is bad or it’s doomed or anything like that. It simply means that, this person is feeling something, and I wanna honour it so that we can then come together around it.

[00:25:19] Kai Xin: That’s really beautiful. So it’s holding space for either reactions without the expectation that it always has to be right.

It’s kind of like sitting in meditation. Having the expectation that we need to be peaceful, but it’s about being there, just watching the emotions.

[00:25:34] Cynthia: Right.

[00:25:35] Cheryl: But I think it’s so hard though. I feel like it’s so hard because especially when you’re in a relationship, everything is intertwined. So it’s really hard to kind of detach yourself from the person and detach your expectations from the person as well.

[00:25:49] Cynthia: Yeah. It’s more like moving into the space of can you acknowledge and not empathize? It is the same as meditation, right? Like, can you see and witness what’s happening without getting hooked on what’s happening? And it’s not that you are not listening. But it is the idea that you are caring for yourself in that moment and holding space for the other person because your work is really to keep the integrity of the conversation.

So if you start to see that the conversation is moving in a hurtful direction, you then practice understanding, how can I get this back to being helpful? And that can look a lot of different ways in the moment and one of them is really just being able to be compassionate. So, like we sit along the suffering of someone else. If we’re in a difficult reaction and the other person is reacting because they are suffering in some way and we’re angry at them for that, or we’re just mad that it’s happening. We’re not actually sitting next to them in that space. We’re punishing them for that. And ourselves.

[00:26:56] Cheryl: So powerful. And I guess an extension of that is how do we communicate when we have hurt others? So when we hurt other people, because nobody’s perfect, and sometimes tempers are bound to arise, how do we actually repair and reconnect again, in a way that is not just a superficial plaster on the wound, but really piecing things back and making sure the trust is rebuilt again.

[00:27:23] Cynthia: So I think the first thing that happens if we’ve hurt someone is self-forgiveness. To feel the sadness and to feel the frustration at ourselves and the anger at ourselves and to love ourselves through that. So often we wanna push those feelings away. Ignore it. And it’s hard to sit with something that we’ve done that was hurtful. And to just acknowledge our role within it.

When we do get to the place where we can say yes, and you really own the truth of it, you’re really honest about it, there is a sense of freedom that comes with that. The sensation of the pain diminishes a little bit when we can just say, this is something that I’ve done and, I forgive myself for it. Or just the phrasing of — even though this happened, I deeply and completely love and accept myself, I’m still a good person.

And then once we’ve gotten to the place where we’re aware of what we’ve done and we understand it in the sense that maybe this person said this and then I felt this, or it brought me back to this experience that I had in the past that made me nervous that this was going to happen again. And so this is what I did. We start to bring awareness to the event itself. And then from there, then we can go to the other person and let them know what it is that we have figured out. It’s not just like, “I’m sorry for what happened”. It’s, “I’ve thought about it and I understand that I was wrong”, or, “I understand that the way that I expressed that to you wasn’t helpful. It was hurtful. I was being judgemental. I was acting from a place of better than and I just want you to know that I’m aware of it. I am sorry and I commit to doing better.”

It’s the idea that there’s like a commitment to not repeating. But I think the repair really comes more from the understanding of where the other person is, why they’re there, why they’re in that space, owning the mistake that you potentially made, and just seeing if there’s a way to move forward from it.

And it can happen at any time. It doesn’t have to be something that just happened either. I’ve worked with people who have had wounds for years and have not addressed or gone back to it. It’s completely overtaken them, and then they’re able to go back and have those conversations, especially in like family dynamics. There can be a lot of …

See also  Ep 0: The start of an imperfect but beautiful journey

[00:30:02] Cheryl: buttons that can be pressed.

[00:30:04] Cynthia: Yeah. A lot of buttons. And so being able to go back to those moments, even if they happened years ago and, and talked to them without judgment or without blame. Just for what it is, this is what happened and, I assume responsibility for X, Y, Z and yeah.

[00:30:26] Cheryl: I think it’s very interesting that the first step that you shared was to understand it within yourself and to really process it within oneself. I was semi-expecting you to say, okay, this is the framework to apologize, you know, this is what you should say, and then how it would be a perfect apology.

So I thought it was very interesting and it does make the apology so much more meaningful and sincere as well. I guess sometimes even once you go through that process, you realize that you do not know how to not hurt that person. Sometimes, it is for you to really ask your partner, “how can I not hurt you again?”, or, “How can I love you better?”

[00:31:06] Cynthia: Yeah, that’s so beautiful. Yeah, it’s true. A lot of people will be like, well, I just wanna say the right thing, so what’s the right thing to say? Right? Give me scripts. This is really about understanding that you already have within you the language that is kind, honest, and helpful. It’s just a matter of slowing down, owning our own suffering in the moment, and seeing what’s inside for us to be able to express.

So much up to this point, it does get pushed down. There are a lot of layers that are on top of that have to breathe and open so that we can access what is it that we truly want in this moment in terms of connection.

[00:31:48] Cheryl: It becomes very clear from the course of this conversation that having good communication with others and subsequently good relationship with others, is a soft skill in a way, but it’s also very much dependent on how much you have a good relationship with yourself and build that awareness within with compassion and love.

I know Kai Xin is probably giving me daggers because of the timing, but I have questions, Cynthia, that I really need to ask you.

[00:32:11] Kai Xin: I feel accused when you say that. *joking*

[00:32:17] Cheryl: I’m sorry *laughs*

[00:32:18] Kai Xin: No, go ahead.

[00:32:20] Cheryl: *laughs* Yeah, but so far we have been talking about, you know, taking the trash out about the bed being tidy, but how do we communicate when it comes to bigger issues like how I want to raise my child, what relationship my child should be taking, or how much time I want to spend with you, or whether I want to introduce you to my parents. So these are bigger questions and will potentially make it or break it for a lot of relationships. So how do you suggest we navigate those?

[00:32:48] Cynthia: So with bigger conversations, I think the biggest piece is to slow down, to really slow down the conversation itself. It’s really about kind of preparing for them beforehand in terms of understanding what is the outcome that you’re looking for from this conversation and understanding how you want the other person to feel in this conversation. How do you want to feel in this conversation? Visualizing how you want the interaction to go is very helpful. Then, you show up with the guidelines, which is really to connect in a kind, honest, and helpful way.

The practice is slowing down. Owning your own suffering in the moment. If you’re talking and your partner says something, feel the sensation in the body because that’s the first cue to everything, the sensation that happens. So you feel the sensation and you’re like, oh, wow, okay. I’m feeling really heated right now. I know that I’m about to yell at him or her. I know that I’m about to get really defensive. Then you come out and you start talking to yourself differently.

And you’re like, okay, we’re feeling misunderstood right now. We’re feeling invisible right now. We’re feeling stupid. It’s okay. We’ve got this. We’re okay. And then we take a big deep breath and we realize, okay, what are my hands doing? What are my feet doing? What’s my belly doing? Then I can look at the person in front of me, and then I can hold space for how they’re talking, right? Then when they’re done, then I can see what’s needed in this conversation. Then I can see, you know, I wanna be helpful, that’s my intention. So if I wanna be helpful, what is going to make this conversation easier?

I think that it’s understanding that each person has different ideas of what is potentially right or different beliefs. And it’s not about trying to win, it’s not about trying to convince. The way I see it, each person is holding something very, very important to them that they really wanna talk to and they really want another person to understand. And it’s not always about understanding exactly what the other person says, but it is about letting the other person say it so that you can hear it and then you can then choose the best way for you then to share your information.

So I think in more difficult conversations, it’s really understanding that so much of it is being able to have a conversation. The only way for us to have a conversation is if we are open to listening to ourselves and not shutting the other person down, and open to engaging with something we might not understand. When we become more curious, we ask more questions. It’s less about winning and convincing and more about clarity, finding clarity in these moments to come to a decision potentially together.

[00:35:58] Cheryl: And I think with curiosity and having the safe space there as well, it probably opens up to the needs that are important to the person. So not so much about whether the view is right or not but what the views mean to the person, the need for the identity that has shaped their lives.

[00:36:17] Cynthia: And I think it’s not even necessarily coming to a decision on something either. So with difficult conversations, I usually talk about three different pieces to a difficult conversation. Usually what we do is we do the first one or we do the third one.

  1. The second conversation at another time is potentially asking for something to be different or, you know, in a bigger conversation, it might look like, would you think about potentially raising our children in both religions? Is that something that you could think about? Those types of questions.
  2. The first one is sharing what’s bothering us, or what the issue is. You’re not doing anything else. You’re just having that one conversation where you’re sharing what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling and what’s coming up for you.
  3. Then you move on to the third, which is making a decision.

So you’re slowing everything down. It’s not that you have one conversation, and that conversation is like the answer to the entire thing. You have like three separate conversations. You give air to it, you give breath to it, you give time to it. And most often where we go is we either share and then we get upset that the other person isn’t doing something different, right?

But we haven’t asked for anything to be different. And then the third, or we go straight to like, I’m making this decision and this is happening, and the other person might just be completely surprised because they have no idea that we were even feeling this way.

[00:37:49] Kai Xin: And they have no time to process as well to come to a decision. What if after the discussion, it’s still fuzzy? You can’t really move for. For example, how to raise a kid. You’re already married. So, unfortunately, if that’s a deal breaker, do you meet in the middle? Like how, how does it work?

[00:38:07] Cynthia: Yeah. You meet in the middle. In the sense that there are going to be some things that your partner does that you don’t agree with, and there’s gonna be things that you do that they don’t agree with, and the things that they are, have to be okay, like, okay for you. If they’re not, then that requires more thought and potentially another discussion. But usually, in those instances, one person will have to pull back on their judgment. They’ll have to start noticing when they’re judging, or they’ll have to start noticing when they’re thinking that they’re better than or they’re right and the other person’s wrong.

And the same thing, the other person then has to do the same. As long as the child is not in danger in any way. It is about coming together to see, you know, I am okay with this. I don’t absolutely love this, but I’m okay in these moments that it’s happening. I can allow it to happen. And the same has to be true on the other end too.

[00:39:09] Kai Xin: So it’s understanding what are the aspects that are negotiable, flexible, and what are some of the non-negotiables.

[00:39:17] Cynthia: Right, the non-negotiables. So I have two little kids and we had a lot of discussions before having kids. I was very clear, this is the way that I want to raise my kids. This is what I’m thinking, this is what I’m feeling right now. With understanding, it’s possible that when we have children, I’m gonna think completely differently. And I think it’s important though to have those types of conversations before and during. But I think if you can set it up before, it makes it a lot easier to understand kind of what the potential expectation is.

Cause what’s hard is we all come from different backgrounds and so I think that sometimes when we come together and we have children, it’s easy to just think like, this is the way it’s gonna be cause this is what it was for me. And then the other person’s like, well this is the way it’s gonna be cause this is what it was for me, or I want something different and I want something different. And we have to talk about it or else we just expect it to look a certain way and it doesn’t.

[00:40:14] Kai Xin: And, it might end up hurting the child.

[00:40:16] Cynthia: Yes, it does. Yeah. It makes it very confusing, right? And so that’s why it is important even if each person has kind of a different opinion on something, if you can find a way to come together to at least, it might not be a hundred percent what the other person wants, but it’s doable. It’s better for the child because then it’s consistent.

[00:40:36] Kai Xin: I do have one last question regarding how to end a difficult conversation. So let’s say it is about very deferring values and there’s no way to even meet halfway, then how do you move forward from there?

[00:40:55] Cynthia: So if there’s no way to meet halfway, you become really clear with yourself on one, is it okay for you to stay or not? If it is, it’s the same in the sense that you have to be a hundred percent honest with yourself that you can let it go because if you can’t, then it ends up coming out in your interactions, right? You end up blaming angry, judgmental, passive, aggressive, all the things. Then, it will just ruin the relationship in a lot of ways. So you have to be a hundred percent clear that you’re like, I’m okay with this. I go in this direction.

Or if you’re not okay with it, then you end up having a conversation which is around, you know, I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m not able to meet in the middle, and it breaks my heart and this is the motions that I’m feeling and I also know that this is the right direction for me.

And then you hold space for the other person’s reaction because it’s really important that we take care of our own suffering first. And to know if we are going to put ourselves in a position to keep suffering. If we have that moment, that choice point moment, we get to say no. This isn’t the right path for me and to be able to share that.

And again, you feel that fear of what the other person’s reaction could be. And knowing that it’s okay, you just have to hold space for the reaction. It’s not saying that it doesn’t hurt, and it’s not saying that it’s easy, but it really is about being a hundred percent honest with yourself, helpful and kind right and necessary.

[00:42:35] Cheryl: And the choice point moment is not always very clear, like in neon light or something. It is always conflicting with like guilt. And is this the right choice? Am I just sabotaging myself?

[00:42:48] Cynthia: I think that most of the time when we ask ourselves those questions, really just taking that moment to sit, ask ourselves the question, listen for the answer, because we know often we know what the answer is, even though it’s hard.

[00:43:01] Kai Xin: Thank you. It’s been such a great conversation. I’ve learned so much and I am thinking, just a small ad hoc request, talking about holding space, would it be too much to ask if we were to have you just lead a one-minute guided meditation just to hold space for ourselves after listening to all of this?

[00:43:22] Cynthia: So you can go ahead and settle into your space and close your eyes, and we can take three long, slow, deep breaths, just inhaling fully through the nostrils and exhaling deeply.

Let the breathing return to its natural rhythm. There’s no need to force or control the breath. Just let it be natural.

You can bring your attention to the sounds around you, just noticing the silence or birds or wherever you are.

And if you feel comfortable, you can bring your hand to your heart centre just over your chest.

And silently say,

May I know love. May I know joy. May I know peace. May I be free from suffering. May I live with ease.

May I know love. May I know joy. May I know peace. May I be free from suffering. May I live with ease.

You can bring your hand back down and just put your attention on the breath, wherever you feel the breath most clearly in the body. So maybe at the nose or the abdomen and the belly, and let go of the breath. Just sit in stillness.

When you’re ready, you can start to circle the wrists, maybe roll the shoulders up back, circle the head.

Blink the eyes open. Just notice the shapes and colours around and come back.

[00:47:39] Cheryl: Thank you so much, Cynthia. That was wonderful.

[00:47:43] Cynthia: Thank you.

More about Cynthia and her works:



Cynthia is offering a free mini-course to our listeners. It is called Communicate with Confidence: Click here to redeem

Special thanks to our sponsors for this episode:

Tan Key Seng, Soh Hwee Hoon, Geraldine Tay, Venerable You Guang, Wilson Ng, Diga, Joyce

Bringing you practical wisdom for a happier life.

Benefited from our content?

Sponsor our efforts to inspire more individuals like you to apply Buddhist teachings in their daily lives.