Practicing Perspective

About 25 years ago I was in a conversation with someone in our book club when it dawned on me the person I was talking to had begun to fear for his physical safety.  My body language and tone of voice had become positively homicidal.

Since then I’ve tried to be aware of both my body and my attitude when engaging in conversation.  What am I feeling and why?  What is my purpose?  Am I trying to understand the people engaged in conversation, or trying to win an argument?

If what the person is saying is producing an unpleasant reaction in my body, I know it’s time to be careful; time to focus on my breath, and try to understand what the person is saying.  What are her assumptions?  What is her point of view?  What is her life experience?

Sometimes someone will say something that just pushes my buttons, which produces an immediate bile dump in my gut; my blood pressure goes through the roof and my breathing becomes rapid and short.  When this happens I need to breathe through these feelings and calm down before I open my mouth.  Often times this is a signal to me that I am feeling disrespected in some way.  Sometimes this comes, not from any intended disrespect, but from my own sense of inadequacy.

If the person says something I don’t understand, or uses a word I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll ask her what she means.  If I’m unsure I’ve understood what she said, then I’ll try to paraphrase what I think she’s said.  If I think I disagree with her, I’ll try to understand what she feels is important in the situation, or what life experiences have influenced her conclusions.

How do you practice perspective?  Do you have a method for psychologically distancing yourself from the conversation in some way?  Or is your source of perspective from something other than conversation?