When I’m really listening, I’m always hearing a giraffe.
~ Kelly Bryson
Did you see the “interaction” between Stephen Miller, White House senior policy adviser, and Jim Acosta, CNN reporter, last Wednesday concerning the Immigration Bill put forward by the Administration (Here’s a link to a video of the interchange if you haven’t seen it or want to see it again)? I did and I didn’t enjoy it. I saw two men talking “at” each other without any connection. Like many conversations, especially charged ones, the two men were having independent monologues with very little understanding on either side.
Compassionate Communication offers a different way of conversing — A method that allows for deep listening, understanding, and true dialogue where both parties are open to being changed. There are three skills in this process: Self-empathy (connecting with what’s happening in you), Empathy for Others (connection with — guessing — what’s happening in another person), and Honesty (sharing what’s going on in you). They combine to provide the ability to have a constructive dialogue with others.
With my affinity for Compassionate Communication in mind, I took the transcript of the interchange and…changed it. I imagined that Stephen Miller and Jim Acosta were transformed into “Giraffe Stephen” and “Giraffe Jim” (the giraffe is the symbol of this process) who are both skilled at Compassionate Communication. I used as many of their actual words as I could blended with language encouraged by the model. The results might surprise you!
Giraffe Stephen & Giraffe Jim Dialogue about the Administration’s new Immigration Bill
(Key: Black is the actual words used in the press conference, green = self-empathy, blue = empathy, and purple = honesty.)
STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE: But since the last question is not on the subject at hand, I will take one actual last question on the subject at hand.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: What you’re proposing, or what the President is proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration. The Statue of Liberty says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer.
Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them you have to speak English? Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: It sounds like you’re concerned because you’re really wanting inclusivity in our policy…you’d like folks to have the freedom to migrate here regardless of their English proficiency. Is that right?
GIRAFFE JIM: Yes…The Statue of Liberty has always been a beacon of hope to the world for people to send their people to this country…and they’re not always going to speak English, Stephen. They’re not always going to be highly skilled. They’re not always going to be somebody who can go to work at Silicon Valley right away.
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: Okay. Let me make sure I’m hearing you. I’m guessing you feel very strongly about wanting a more inclusive policy for immigration that honors your sense of what the Statue of Liberty means. Am I getting it?
GIRAFFE JIM: Yes, I think you understand me, but I have more to share. Now, I’d like to share my personal experience on this topic. Are you open to hearing that?
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: Hmmm. Thanks for asking. Let me check in with myself (considers his inner state)…I do have some things I really want to say on this topic so I’m not certain I am open. (Pause) I’m concerned if I continue to give you empathy without trust that I’ll get a chance to speak my truth, it will create a wall of resentment between us that I don’t want. Does that make sense?
GIRAFFE JIM: Okay. It sounds like you want to share what’s coming up in you so that you don’t feel resentful moving forward?
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: Yes, I really value our relationship and I’m concerned that if I don’t speak my truth, it will get in the way of the connection I have with you. I do really appreciate your empathy. I haven’t been listened to like that in a long, long time. I’m going to see if I’ve shifted about your request…(goes inside to check-in)… I am noticing some shifting. I feel comfortable hearing your personal story now. Go ahead.
GIRAFFE JIM: Stephen, my father was a Cuban immigrant. He came to this country in 1962 right before the Cuban Missile Crisis and obtained a Green Card.
Yes, people who immigrate to this country can eventually — people who immigrate to this country not through Ellis Island, as your family may have, but in other ways, do obtain a Green Card at some point. They do it through a lot of hard work. And, yes, they may learn English as a second language later on in life. But this whole notion of “well, they have to learn English before they get to the United States,” are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: Okay. Again, I hear your strong feelings about a desire for inclusivity in our immigration policies and a strong preference that English proficiency not be a standard used to determine who immigrates here. Is that right?
GIRAFFE JIM: Yes, that’s it. Whew, I feel a great deal of relief now and gratitude for your willingness to take the time to really understand where I’m coming from. (Deep breath, sigh) I’m guessing that’s not easy for you to do in this setting. Now, I would like to hear from you on this.
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: Thanks for your sharing. I do have some strong feelings coming up in me. [I]t’s actually — I have to honestly say I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It’s actually — it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind –Well, first of all, right now it’s a requirement that to be naturalized you have to speak English. So the notion that speaking English wouldn’t be a part of our immigration system would be actually very ahistorical.
GIRAFFE JIM: Okay. I’m hearing that you are surprised by my question about whether this policy means we are “just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?” I wonder if you’re wanting…hmmm. I need to shift to honesty, here, Stephen. I’m not sure what you’re wanting. Can you tell me more about what’s going on in you?
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: Frankly, I’m just getting tired of this conversation. I am doing my best here to describe and promote the President’s agenda and this dialogue doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I get tired of all fake news out there diverting people from what the President is doing, when the President is just trying to make good on his campaign promises and Make America Great Again. Does that make sense?
GIRAFFE JIM: Are you feeling frustrated and exhausted because you’re longing for more appreciation for the work you and the President are doing?
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: Yes, I don’t get any appreciation from you or the rest of the fake media. It’s just day-in-day-out abuse. Have you seen what people write about me…the meme’s, the twitter noise!? Don’t they understand that I am a person just like them!? People make fun of me because of my age, because of how I talk, because of what I say, because of how I look — it’s bad enough that I’m losing my hair, but for people to comment on it every day — Geez, it takes a lot out of me to come on television like this knowing that it will all start up again. But I do really believe in what I’m doing. I believe in what the President is trying to do. I just wish it was a little easier…
GIRAFFE JIM: It sounds like you’re wanting to be treated with respect and you want an easier time doing your work. Is that accurate?
GIRAFFE STEPHEN: Yes on both accounts. Thank you for listening. Wow! I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It was good to share a little of my frustration and receive your empathy. I feel cleansed and much more relaxed (pause). Part of me would like to share more of my honesty on this issue, but I am feeling pretty tired. I so much appreciate your willingness to dialogue and for both of us to go a little deeper into what’s alive in ourselves. Thanks, Jim (smile).
GIRAFFE JIM: You’re welcome, Stephen. (smile) I’m glad you got a little more clarity. I also appreciate your listening to me. This is much different that what I expected from you and I’d like more. I am pretty tired as well. Perhaps we could connect in a more relaxed setting later this week. It sounds like both of us have more to say on this issue. Would you be comfortable if I called you later today to set up a meeting?
I think that went exactly as planned. I think that was what Sarah was hoping would happen. (Laughter.)
GIRAFFE SARAH: Thank you, Stephen. Well, the transition back should be pretty fun and simple. Thank you. That was exciting. I’ve never seen that kind of exchange in a press conference. Heck, I’ve never seen that kind of exchange anywhere. I feel like I know you both so much better and, for the first time ever, I have hope that the cold war between our administration and the press might be thawing. I’d like to invite everyone to stand up and show their gratitude for Stephen and Jim with a round of applause…