There are always two sides to every story. Two egos involved, and two perspectives that are both “right” in their own way. When they collide, there is usually a mess left to clean up, although few people ever extend that effort.
We “forgive and forget”, we look the other way, and try to believe that the slate has been wiped clean, but we’re not really that gracious. If we’re honest, that experience leaves a residue, making you both just a little more cautious when dealing with each other again. Cleaning it up is a much more productive, growth-oriented option.
It starts with fairness and humility. Stand in the other person’s shoes until you can genuinely see how your behavior has upset them. Now, that doesn’t mean squeezing your own perspective into their shoes and trying to justify how your position really should be understood. It means trying to understand what it’s like to be them – which will often be quite different from you.
For example, an assertive, ambitious person will come across like a bull in a china shop to someone who is more introverted and analytical. A softer spoken person may come across as slower or less committed to someone who makes decisions quickly. When those two people have a disagreement, they are triggering each other’s beliefs about how the world “should work.” Finding the humility to accept that your way is not the only way and then respecting someone else’s way of being is a challenging first step.
Beware - this is where your defensiveness will probably show up and your story about how the other person is at fault will want to take center stage. For now, we recognize that it takes two to tango and we allow the other party to make his or her own choice about accepting responsibility. Your choice to clean up your side of the mess has to be done without any conditions.
Now, once you have successfully put yourself in their shoes, trying to imagine what it would be like to be them, faced with the behavior you displayed, you will probably see a few things you could have done differently. Those are the messes we’ll be cleaning up.
The next step is to sit down with the other person to share what you have seen. Explain that you have spent some time imagining what it must have been like for them in that disagreement with you. Be specific about what you said, or what expectation you had, or what assumption you made, and acknowledge how the other person may have felt on the other end of the disagreement. Here is an example:
“John, I’d like to share my thoughts about the disagreement we had this morning. I have spent some time imagining what it must have been like on your end and I see a few things that I wish I had done differently. When you didn’t have the report ready for me, I assumed you had ignored my request and put other projects ahead of me. I felt ignored and unimportant and that’s why I lost my temper. I realize now that you have a lot of responsibility and that you are doing the best you can to keep up with everyone in the office. When I raised my voice and suggested that you weren’t doing a good job, I was really out of line and you probably felt attacked. If I had been more patient, it may have been easier for you to help me. I am sorry if my reaction upset you, and will do my best to keep it from happening again.”
Remember, for maximum effectiveness, this has to be offered without any expectation that the other person will reciprocate with a similar apology. You are doing this for the sake of your own growth, your own character, and your own peace of mind. The other person will probably be stunned at first, but they will always appreciate your courage, and they will feel honored by your gesture. No matter what they say in response, this is worth its weight in diamonds.
Here’s the bonus! If you commit to this practice 100%, you will forever be aware of your effect on others. If you know in advance that you will find the humility to clean up your messes, you will think twice about choosing behavior you would regret and look for new ways to interact. That shift will come from genuine awareness - a true change in perspective that comes from a new experience - not from will power.
Adopting this practice changed my life, and I wish the same for you.
Time to transcend! This blog series is intended to challenge you by reaching beyond the status quo. If you are feeling resistance, consider that your ego is coming forward and presenting you with an opportunity to grow. This is where the magic happens!