The One Trick That Will Change Everyone You Meet
We choose how we see the world. We can choose to see a world where everyone is out for themselves. Or we can choose to see a world where everyone has the same needs, but we have different ways of meeting those needs.
I’ve seen the world in both ways and I can tell you that the first one made me really unhappy. And the second way helped me have more patience and compassion for everyone I met.
Yet even though I know this there are still times when I meet people that I wish I could change them. And every time it happens, I learn something very important.
The other day when I signed on to wordpress, I was greeted by this comment about my post, Which World Do You Belong To?
This is probably one of the worst nonsensical responses I have seen to the photo of Maria. For someone who doesn’t want people to fall into a category you’re sure an expert on determining which people fall Into based on what they post on their Facebook pages. Gotta love a hypocrite who is holier than thou. Is there a category for that? Maybe you can come to my blog and tell me I’m not part of the world and let me know what category I fall into. You do realize by drawing these ignorant conclusions of people you are the problem. I’d like to know how you know what people are thinking about each other too. Have you very heard of self projection? Nice try fluffing it up with pictures of the elderly and sushi though.*
When I first read this comment I felt frustrated and a little confused. The commenter seemed to be hearing the exact opposite message from the one I had intended to send.
Whenever I confront a difficult person or comment I have one or more of these five reactions.
The Five Ways We Meet Difficult People
The first thing I felt when I read this comment was a desire to argue. In my mind, I started to imagine what I would say to her if she was in front of me.
I would to explain the parts of my post she had misunderstood. I would explain to her why she was wrong. And I would change her mind with my compelling argument.
When I read the comment felt attacked and vulnerable. I wanted to defend myself.
I imagined trying to get her to see that I was a good person. I thought about what I would say so she’d see her original assessment was wrong. I thought about all the things that I do that would demonstrate my goodness. I would convince her of my goodness and defend my integrity.
The next thing that came up is hard to admit because I’m not proud of it. It was judgment.
At first it was a critique of her grammar. Then I had judgmental thoughts about her age. Then I looked at her blog briefly and had judgmental thoughts about her desire to compete in a bikini competition.
All of these thoughts had the same goal. They were an attempt by the defensive part of myself to make this woman bad. Because if could make her bad then I could be good. And then I wouldn’t have to consider her comments.
Again, I’m not proud that my mind went there, but I think it’s important to be honest about it.
The next thing I felt was pain.
The first pain was guilt over my judgmental thoughts. The next was pain from my reaction to the comment.
I thought about my intention with my blog and with that post in particular. I thought about how I try to put my heart and mind into every post I write. I felt in my gut how hard her comment was to hear. Unlike the other reactions my pain reaction wasn’t intellectual it was visceral.
The final thing that came up was a desire to avoid, both the comment itself and my feelings around it. When I feel pain avoiding, it seems easier then dealing with it.
I thought about not approving the comment. I went off the page and didn’t look at it for a while. Whenever the pain came up, I tried to think about something else.
Why This Doesn’t Work
These reactions weren’t satisfying because they trapped me into seeing this woman as a threat. They encouraged me to only think about myself. And they prevented me from meeting this woman where she was.
Despite all of my reactivity, I knew in my heart that this woman wants many of the same things I do. I know that I can’t change someone through judgment or pain. But I realized I could change her if I changed the way I looked at her.
If I was willing to be compassionate and meet her as she was, I might be able to turn her from an enemy into someone I cared about
Five Steps to Changing Anyone You Meet
1. Move Beyond Reactivity
If you are caught in anger, judgment, or hurt it’s unlikely you’ll be able to meet someone as they are.
Before you do anything else, make sure you have enough resources. Get empathy from someone you trust, give yourself empathy, and/or do something that helps you resolve your feelings.
If you try to respond while you are still upset it will likely leak through and the other person will be able to tell.
2. Don’t Wish They Were Someone or Something Else
People are who they are. That doesn’t mean they can’t change, but they don’t change just because we want them to and won’t change if we try to force them to.
Accepting someone is hard, but the first step is to stop wishing they were someone else. If you try to meet someone from a place of wanting them to be different, it will taint the interaction and make it hard for you to be authentic.
3. Be Willing to Hear Them
One of the hardest things when dealing with someone we disagree with is our ability to hear them. We think that if we hear them we will be agreeing with them.
But hearing someone isn’t agreeing with them. Hearing someone is about being willing to see them as human and admit that they have a right to express themselves.
If we aren’t willing to really hear what someone has to say, then how can we expect to meet them as they are? And how can we expect them to be willing to hear us in return?
4. Listen for Feeling and Needs NOT Words or Strategies
Once we are willing to hear someone, we need know what to listen for. It’s crucial that we let go of their words and strategies; and listen to their feelings and needs.
Feelings are human emotions we all experience, like joy, fear, or frustration. While aggressive words can be hard to hear, the feelings they express are easier to understand.
Needs are universal values that we all share like: love, acceptance, joy, and authenticity. We often say things like, “I need you to listen,” when what we really need is to feel heard. Someone can listen and we can still feel like they aren’t hearing us. Other times we need to talk to someone else who is actually able to hear us.
When listening to a difficult person listen for these universal values. When we can hear the values underneath what other people are saying we can more easily understand and connect with where they are coming from.
5. Open Your Heart and Respond Authentically
Once you have done all the things above then you may be ready to respond authentically. But before you do it’s crucial that you have an open heart and that you are clear about where your response is coming from.
An authentic response doesn’t look any particular way. I always try to respond with patience and understanding, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have boundaries. My honest expression might let others know if what they expressed bothered me.
Meeting someone isn’t about walking on eggshells. It’s about doing your best to show up as your whole and best self with all the wisdom and compassion you can muster.
I did my best to follow these steps before I responded to the comment at the beginning of this post. I dealt with my reactivity and then when I was calm I went back to this woman’s site and read her blog more closely.
Her story was really inspiring. She talked about how she overcame depression using fitness. She talked about discovering a deeper meaning through exercise and how it helped her connect with her desire to be a better person. As I kept reading, my heart opened up.
I began to guess why she might have responded the way she did. I imagined that she read my post and thought I was attacking people who exercise. I wondered if maybe she has heard those attacks in real life.
I imagined how hard those attacks would be to hear because exercise has been such an important part of her process of recovery from depression.
Once my heart was open, I did my best to respond. I don’t know if she read my comment or agreed with what I had to say. Maybe my response made her angrier.
But I realized that none of that mattered. What was important for me was that I was able to let go of my judgment and projection and do my best to try to meet her as she was.
Because the truth is, we can’t change other people by trying to get them to be something else. But we can change people when we stop seeing them as threats and begin seeing them as human beings just doing the best they can.
Question: How do you deal with difficult people?
*Note I edited this comment slightly to correct some typos and grammatical errors.