I’ve had my fair share of challenging conversations over the years. It can be tough to deliver a challenging message at work, take critical feedback, deal with an emotional family situation or stand up for what you believe – even when it means going against the views of someone else.
How do you deal with such situations and the people involved?
One option is to get angry, frustrated and label the other party as wrong and maybe even totally psycho! Put the blame on the other person, protect your own ego and make it a story of “me vs them”. This option might feel good initially, but will inevitably lead to more frustration, anger and rarely will solve the issue at hand. It is far more likely that you will enrage the other party, cause more resentment and ill will between everyone. Not to mention the sleepless nights spent tossing and turning worrying about the issue.
Another option is to assume the best and highest intentions for the other person involved. Don’t cast them off as psycho. Don’t belittle their ideas. Don’t make them evil. Don’t create a story of “me vs we” or “us vs them”. Instead, assume that they are behaving the way they are because at some level, deep down, they truly believe it and it serves some higher purpose for them. Assume that in their view of the world, they are right and doing the right thing.
You do NOT need to agree with their point of view. You only need to assume that they have a reason for it, and that their intention is good. You may need to really do some soul-searching to find that good intention – but it will be there if you look hard enough.
This applies even in extreme cases – where lives (or entire ways of life) are at risk or big sums of money are at stake. Even for people the public might condemn as murderers and felons, there is some seed of intention and higher purpose for what they have done. Even if that purpose serves only the individual and not the other person (or people/community) involved. It is still there.
For less extreme cases – this is also true. Let’s take the example of a disagreement at work with a co-worker. You might not agree on an issue, but if you start a conversation by assuming their best intention (they are trying to help, build a stronger team, solve a hard problem, etc.) then you immediately have common ground and can move forward to find a resolution. You don’t have to agree with their actions, but how can you doubt their intentions? How do you know what is going on in their head? You don’t, so take the “high road” and assume the best.
At some level everyone is right in their own mind and any dialogue needs to start with acknowledging that in your own mind and internal dialogue. The alternative is to assume they are out to get you in some way…and that way of thinking just leads to stress and despair.
I prefer the way of thinking that lets me sleep well at night.