Before I dive in to this week’s article which is a response to a question/sharing from a newsletter reader I thought I’d share a piece of feedback I received that will help you to appreciate the value of giving this a try:
“Recently I made a comment and was judged for it. I felt terrible because this is an issue I have had before and I want so badly to be a person who is accepted and thought well of. When I went through the questions I realized that the person who had criticized me was likely insecure too and it wasn’t JUST about me. It was a helpful exercise.”
That’s great news!! I love hearing how just a few minutes of conscious, structured exploration can bring such peace and clarity!! Yay!
And now for this week’s question and answer from Anna.
“I so desperately want to be a gracious person but it seems I am always coming out with some comment that is less than gracious or some overreaction. I envy my neighbour who is truly gracious and even though I observe how it is done I can’t get there myself and often feel judged for my reactions and beat myself up repeatedly about this. I realize you can’t become someone else overnight but my progress is so slow that sometimes I feel I am peddling backwards. On the other hand if I’m constantly on guard and managing my image I feel like a boring flat person.”
Thanks for taking time to share your observations and frustrations here Anna.
It is really frustrating and quite overwhelming to feel like your best attempts at warmth and friendliness and authenticity seem to be received as though you’ve just said you have the plague!
These moments used to completely depress me and lead me to feel about 1 cm tall!
To get out of this rut there were two concepts that I used simultaneously to help me make incredibly speedy progress with this and to learn a tonne about myself and others so that I could feel more confident in my own skin and not want to crawl under a rock whenever I said something that went over like a lead balloon.
First, the part that is about you:
Your part is to slow down, catch yourself before you speak. Notice the tone you were about to use, your body language and the words you were about to speak. Ask yourself, “What is my intention in saying this right now? Is what I’m about to say and how I’m about to say it likely to create my desired outcome?”
Waiting to speak until your words and intentions are in alignment will take care of almost all of this issue for you. Not because you’ll never be judged or misunderstood again, although those instances will be markedly rare, but because you’ll know that you had integrity in your communication. You weren’t saying what you said to hurt or make fun of someone, nor were you doing it as a manipulative or unclear way of getting your needs met by others.
You have integrity when your words and actions align. This integrity naturally brings a sense of solidity and peace and the judgement of others can’t shake. Yes, it’s frustrating to be misunderstood or judged for being yourself, to be sure, but when you know you had integrity in your actions and words you will know that the judgement of others is indicative of either of the two following scenarios:
The message they are sending is “Think like me or you’re wrong.” Sorry! That’s a pile of pahooey and we can never be truly happy in any relationship where independent thought is judged. This isn’t the bloomin’ Spanish Inquisition! Freedom of thought and authentic expression is your right as a human being in a free society. Don’t get stuck looking to anyone else for approval – your own gut will tell you whether you had integrity in your actions and that’s all you need to know!
Often times, situations that look like #2 are actually #1 and starting out with the simple question “What did you just hear me say?” will reveal which is which and often deepen and strengthen relationships that you otherwise might have walked away from.
You can see how much of the stress of this issue can be taken care of simply by you being more mindful of your words and making sure that the way you’re communicating them is going to really carry them well. Don’t be afraid to be extra quiet for a little while, while you’re noticing this. It’s actually much better to zip it and just observe than to play that old game of feeling that you need to join in and say something when you haven’t really thought it through.
It won’t be long before this is just an integrated skill and you won’t have to think about it, but give yourself a little time to practice it.
Second, the part that is about them (but still, really, about you).
I call this my 10 second rule.
If you’re getting a reaction from someone or they are avoiding you or doing something that feels like they are upset or rejecting you, you have 10 seconds to reflect on what you may have done that would have upset them or not met their needs in some way.
If you can’t think of anything (this is so much easier when the first piece regarding integrity is your way of being) then you have two choices.
- They are misunderstanding you (which can be rectified by simply asking them to tell you what they heard you say: “It seems like you might have misunderstood me, what did you just hear me say?”). You’ll be surprised how quickly things get resolved when we just ask this simple question!
- They are not a good fit for you as a friend/peer etc. They just don’t agree. They think differently and while differences are a natural part of friendship and partnership, if those differences are in a key area (a core value or principle) or if the other person demonstrates their judgement with contempt or disrespect or is simply closed to allowing for more than one perspective on the situation it is a strong indicator that they are not a good fit for you as a friend.
So, there you go. Start out with integrity in your actions and words and then relationships with others get pretty simple (not effortless or without bumps in the road, but much less stressful and traumatic and things get resolved much more easily as a result).
Remember the 10 second rule and don’t let yourself continue to spin a story of what you’ve done to upset someone. Ask! Or let it go.
- Let it go! Assume it isn’t about you and know that at the very least, if they are thinking it’s about you it’s a misunderstanding because your intentions were good.
- Ask them about their behaviour. “I notice you’re a little withdrawn today, is everything okay?” or “You seem frustrated, what’s up?” In other words you do not approach them openly with the assumption that you are their problem, because 99% of the time you won’t be. You approach them with openness to hear that you may have inadvertently upset them but you’re not buying into that as the only possible reason for their behaviour. You’ll see very quickly, after just one or two of these conversations that behaviours that you were certain were “about you” had nothing to do with you and you’ll learn very quickly to read others behaviour much more effectively.