Who would disagree that life is more fun when we’re surrounded by those who see things the way we do? It certainly can be a lot easier. But what do we do when they don’t and we have to work and live productively and effectively together?
We are living in unprecedented times and there’s no shortage of opportunities to work through our differences. And the stakes have never been higher if we don’t. It’s not to say I don’t love a great deep dive into a juicy subject with someone who sees things differently but, more often than not, working through our differences become missed opportunities for a chance to learn and grow together.
Imagine if when someone said something we disagreed with we responded with a genuine, “That’s an interesting perspective. Can you say more?” or “What’s important about that for you?” rather than reacting with, “What is wrong with you, how can you not see it the way I do?” or “Why are you taking this course of action when it’s obvious it should go like this?”
Instead of having the goal be to agree, what if the goal were to understand, learn, and connect? I always say to my coachees when they are frustrated and want something they’re not getting, “Whatever you want more of, give more of.” For example, if they want to be understood, one of their assignments is likely to be to go out and be more understanding in their interactions and report back the results when they tried it out in the field.
I have them get into a “relationship” with what it means to be understood and that it’s a universal need for all of us. It’s easy for us to see how others aren’t “doing it right” and a lot harder to see the ways in which we’re committing the same faux pas.
I also have them connect with the assumptions and beliefs that are underneath their perspectives so that they have a choice to choose their perspective rather than have their perspectives choose them.
When we judge others and don’t meet them where they are, we’re not going to get very far. Nobody wants to be shamed and made wrong for the way they see things. Our POV’s are precious to us and we only change when we feel we own our decisions.
You can’t make someone see a situation through your lense, but you can lead by example. There’s a saying, live by “attraction rather than promotion” and those who want what you have will take notice and will do what you do.
So, the next time you encounter someone with a difference of opinion, and it won’t be hard to find these days, notice how your first instinct is to want to react and prove them wrong, try a fresh approach and invite the tension, get curious, look for common ground, and remember that they are struggling with the same needs and want to be as heard and seen as you do.
We’re all in this together so let’s start acting that way.
Tara Brach, Ph.D, psychologist, author and teacher of meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening powerfully describing “understanding” another person is to “stand under”:
“Isn’t it true that to get to know the beauty of a tree, you have to be quiet & rest in the shade of the tree? Don’t you have to stand under the tree? To understand anyone, you need to stand under them for a little while…you have to listen to them and be quiet and take in who they are, as if from under, as if from inside out…”