“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”~Stephen Covey
No matter how evolved or self-actualized we are, no matter how wise or Zen we may be, everyone has certain triggers – issues or topics that we feel sensitive about and that can provoke reactions within us, even when we tell ourselves it’s not worth getting upset about.
Before you write anyone off, or let yourself be consumed with anger or resentment, it’s important to question the other people’s intentions – to give them the benefit of a doubt and try to understand where they’re coming from.
I recently had this lesson driven home for me by Tina, a fellow Crossfitter.
While I was stretching before a workout, Tina walked up and said, “Hey, Misti Pisti.”
With those three words, my guard went up, and I flashed back to childhood, when my siblings acted like … well, siblings … and used the nickname “Misti Pisti” to tease me about my bedwetting issue.
Tina’s words struck a nerve. I assumed she must have read my memoir, Hidden Heroes, and intentionally set out to push my buttons.
“Those words don’t work,” I told Tina. “Call me Misti. Call me ‘fun chick.’ But not that.” Trying to soften my tone, I added, “There’s a story behind those words.”
Seeming uncomfortable, Tina walked away and started her warm-up.
This interaction bothered me all day, and I proceeded to get angrier about it.
I held onto my anger for several weeks, avoiding contact with Tina, until my speaker coach, John, suggested Tina might have used those words to show she had read my book, that perhaps this was an effort to connect.
“Well, that’s an odd way to create a connection,” I said, defensively.
“Is it possible?” he asked.
“Yes, of course it is.”
When I finally asked Tina why she addressed me as “Misti Pisti,” her answer was so simple that it blew my mind.
“I called you that because it rhymed,” Tina explained. “I call my niece, Alexia, ‘Alexia Pexia,’ and she loves it.”
Turns out, Tina hadn’t read my book at all. She was just being cute and playful, and trying to connect with me.
I had been ready to write Tina off … over a rhyming game. Not only that, but I allowed the misunderstanding to leave me feeling bad for weeks. Ah, the joys of being human!
Next time someone offends you, consider taking the following steps:
- Breathe. When you’re reacting, it’s because the survival part of your brain – your amygdala – is activated. To gain access to the reasoning part of your brain, take a deep breath and allow time for oxygen to reach your frontal lobe.
- Check Intentions. It’s easy to assume people mean to make you feel bad, but it’s far more beneficial to clarify their intentions before getting offended.
- Repeat and Learn. So often we think we understand what someone is saying, yet whenever I’ve repeated what I heard in heated discussions, I’m wrong about 90 percent of the time. Rather than destroy relationships, consider repeating what you heard the other person say, and stop to make sure you got it right.
Of course, this approach takes time and energy, but excellent relationships are worth every once.
Join the Conversation: What stubborn, unquestioned beliefs are holding you back from meaningful connections?
Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes