Seeking understanding is the last thing we want to do when someone has offended us, tainted our reputation, or put us in harm’s way. It’s far easier to hold tightly to our beliefs, keep our anger, and strengthen our story by gathering all the necessary data and buy-in from others.
It’s risky to seek their perspective and listen openly and authentically to their thought process, particularly when they might not demonstrate such concern in return. They may never ask about our experience, or even appreciate our interest in understanding theirs, making it far easier to keep our animosity and find a way to punish them.
“He’s my boss’s, boss’s, boss,” Brad said, “And I have no idea how to write the letter to his boss explaining how his poor choices put my life in danger. What do I do?”
“Do you have a way of contacting the man you’re upset with directly?” I asked.
“No. I mean… I know his name, but I don’t know his contact information.”
“Could you find it?”
“Well, maybe… but if I do talk to him then I can no longer anonymously submit a formal letter of complaint without the potential of losing my job.”
Considering his brush up against death while fighting a wild fire, I could appreciate his anger. I can also see what he might be giving up by going directly to a formal letter of complaint. By seeking to punish before seeking to understand their perspective, we lose our ability to—
a.) Challenge our own stories and grow in awareness,
b.) Learn the truth behind their decisions, and
c.) Offer insights that may very well save others from the same experience.
By consistently giving ourselves a chance to understand another person’s perspective (especially when anger is present), we stretch our heart, develop compassion, and strengthen relationships. Such actions create a sense of safety in our presence and serve to strengthen trust.
If it’s true that most of us are doing the best we can with the information we have in the moment, does it make sense to risk our tightly held beliefs in service of growth? Is it possible that by assuming well of others and seeking to understand them, we attract the same kind of understanding in our life?
While learning to listen in the face of pain (anger, sadness, and even grief) is far from easy, practicing cannot help but strengthen our own courage while deepening trust.
Here’s to your greatness,