The space between people

Dec 02 2011 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

I don't get many cold calls these days. Today, I did. Two, in fact - about five minutes apart. What struck me, as with most of these calls, is the perfunctory, scripted and energetically flat, "how are you today?" immediately after the caller states their name and company.

In my mind, those four words are the kiss of death? Why? They communicate to me (1) it's not about me and (2) the caller is basically feigning interest and unconsciously jumping through a requisite hoop to get to the pitch. It's all about them, not about me. So, I hang up immediately - 99.9% of the time after a polite "No, thanks".

So, let's take a look at this phenomenon from the perspective of how we meet and greet others at work, at home, at play and in relationship.

Do you care? Really, do you care?

If you look back on your day or your week, can you recall moments when you asked someone "How are things going?;" "What's goin' on?;" "How are you today?" and the like?

Do you recall their responses? And, the biggie, can you recall actually stopping and listening, really listening to their response? Did you probe more deeply when someone responded with more than an "OK" - type response? Were you actually interested? Did you feign interest? Were you respectful? Or were you sorry you asked?

In our fast-paced, Twitter-driven world, we have a tendency to actually "diss" another even while asking how they are. Unconsciously, we assume that our perfunctory "what's up?" or "How's it goin'?" falsely allows us to check off the "did I acknowledge someone today?" box on my "how to have positive relationships" check-sheet.

For many of us, these are actually unconscious, knee-jerk questions. Truth be told, we could care less about how they are. I'm sure more than a few of us, when we're "greeted" this way, have an internal response of "yeah, like s/he really cares!"

Between two people, or you and a group, there's space. Here, we'll focus on the space between two people. That space between the two is not empty space. Actually, it's filled with energy which, on a continuum, ranges from warm to cold, soft to hard, relaxed to tense, strong to weak, love to fear, etc. Get it?

The energy reflects you who you are, what you are, and how you are in the moment. This energetic phenomenon is called intersubjectivity and it's what occurs when two souls meet. It's about how you're feeling, not so much about what you're thinking - although what you're thinking will affect how you feel.

The experience of intersubjectivity is what allows your own "interiority" or landscape, and that of the other. Intersubjectivity reflects the degree to which you allow yourself to open up so the other has a deeper sense and experience of you in the moment.

The experience of intersubjectivity allows you, in real-time, to be curious about who you are, who you're taking yourself to be in the interaction, how you experience yourself and the other person - emotionally, physically, spiritually - from a perspective of "who am I" right now. We're not talking about role, position and the like, but of a deeper sense of "who I am."

Some questions one might explore in a state of intersubjectivity might be:

What am I feeling like (perhaps using a metaphor)?
What does the space in which I/we're immersed feel like?
What's my experience of "ease of being" during the interaction?
How old do I feel?
What's my heart center feel like (not the physical heart, but your spiritual heart center area in the middle of your chest)?
Am I "in my head" or somewhere else in my body?
How connected to the other do I feel?
What am I feeling in my body?
Is my heart engaged?
What stories about this experience am I telling myself?
How grounded (vs. "spacy") do I feel?
Do I have a lot of ego/mental activity going on?
Am I trusting myself/the other right now?
What's my breath like, heart rate?
Am I sharing my truth?
Do I feel I'm being influenced by the other?
Am I feeling authentic?
Do I feel I want to be in this interaction?
Am I needing to be/feel accepted?
Do I feel supported by my Higher Self?

Why is intersubjectivity useful?
Intersubjectivity is one way to see yourself as a barometer that points to how you "show up" in relationship, to assess the degree of your authenticity, to look at the quality of your interactions - feelings, emotions, physiological sensations - and give you a sense of that "space" between you and the other.

Some questions for self-reflection

  • How would you describe the "space" between you and those people with whom you interact regularly at work and at home.
  • Do you, consciously or unconsciously, distance yourself from others (through avoidance, being antagonistic, etc.)? Do you often feel "separate" when in dialogue with others?
  • When you're in dialogue with someone whose good, or beauty or truth you can't see, how can you "warm" the space between the two of you?
  • If someone attempts to create a "safe space" between them and you (being open, honest, authentic, etc.), how does that make you feel?
  • Did you experience the quality of intersubjectivity as you were growing up? What about now?

Focusing on the quality of the space between you can and will - if you're intentional and sincere - help you know yourself, who you are, during interactions. It's as if the "content" is irrelevant; the "context" is everything.

What awareness of intersubjectivity does is support one to be "conscious" of one's interactions so that one's more "unconscious" interactions - walking into a room, office, kitchen, store, classroom, meeting room - and uttering a quick "how's it goin?" and making believe you care, will become less and less a part of your "relationship repertoire."

Intersubjectivity allows for "personal-ness" - a quality sorely missing from many of our daily interactions - at work, at home, at play and in relationship.

So, if you don't mean it, or don't care, then don't ask.

"So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it." [Krishnamurti]

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.