Working with differences

Learning to see the big picture is all about making that shift from seeing differences to seeing diversity. Essentially the words are the same, but diversity brings in an awareness of belonging to a larger whole. It is also enriching rather than diminishing.

The first time I was able to make this shift, it was a traumatic journey in the approach, and utter euphoria when it ‘clicked’ finally. The bitterness, rage, frustration, polarization, fighting, was replaced by a more empowering sense of multiple objectives to accommodate – doable – not stuck and helpless any more.

Since then, I have been able to make the shift more and more frequently, and in the process have discovered learnings that empowered me. By the way, by ’empowered’, I simply mean being able to follow my desires and my goals without external barriers.

Offering them here if you find use for them. In articulating, I will be able to clarify them further too. Win win.

Assumptions of Intent

I used to often ‘know’ what the other person was doing. And it was usually something I could either hate or patronize. I have realized that no one is intentionally acting in any way “wrong”. They have their own intentions and understandings and they live their own realities with their unique challenges that help them decide what is “best” for them. My accusations of ill intent only angered them and no one ever agreed for the simple reason that they were not intending anything ‘bad’. So I used to insist on the truth as I saw it, and they used to make ‘false’ accusations of me, that were their experience of me, and things got ugly fast. Agreement was out of the question. I have made great efforts to stop stating anyone’s intentions except my own, which are the only ones I can claim for sure. Instead, I describe the action and how it impacts me. “You want to cheat me” becomes “Your doing this is not working for me or is hurting me, etc.”. That invites a collaboration into how the situation could be more functional, rather than the other person getting busy defending his honor from slander.

Understanding anger

I am not saying anger is right or wrong. It is. However, there are two important things about it.

  • Anger is a facade to cover a fear: It serves to cover vulnerability from being touched.
  • Anger is a weapon: It hurts. Whoever says, “I don’t mean to hurt you, but….” and gets angry is flat out lying. For whatever reason. In retaliation, in domination,….

So there are better ways of responding than getting angry, and there are better ways of responding to anger than getting angry. When I find myself angry, I try to take a minute to see what I’m angry about. Is it something where getting angry is functional? And sometimes it is. Understanding the desire of the man harassing you on the street rather than getting angry will not work. If it is, I use it with the awareness of using a weapon, which makes it more effective. If it is not necessarily where I need to protect myself, I try and explain the vulnerability I’d like respected rather than get angry. Most of the time this works. If it doesn’t, I can still get angry. I don’t have to be a doormat, just more functional.

When someone is angry, I try not to analyze every word they say, but rather look for the blame in it, and see how something I did may have been interpreted differently than I intended. Then, I can restate clearly without the possibility of the threat, or even start a conversation around it to understand the matter and see if there was a misinterpretation. Sometimes I have been interpreted accurately, and thus there is anger. Sure, I have the choice of doing whatever I want, including getting angry. The idea is being more functional.

Purpose versus Ego

I have a lot of arrogance, and make judgments. Often, my disagreement with someone is more about that person than what he is saying. Learning to recognize that and stop it. I see a value in my responses being oriented in what the issue actually is. That people are different is evident. That cannot be fixed. That would make the world a very boring place, if fixed.

Debate the value of ideas, not people

When I reduce a person to a label, it is not only insulting, but it is a rejection of everything the person is, beyond that label. Usually also a rejection of anything good in the person. It is dehumanizing and amounts to a denial of identity. Nor does it lead to solutions. On the other hand, if I am able to limit my assessments to the idea in question, I can look at possibilities more easily. Also, a person is who he or she is. I can’t become someone else, if I am a problem. On the other hand, I can easily try something else if what I am doing is a problem.

Accepting Criticism

Most people have no clue how to receive another’s words. For that matter, I learned it with much experimentation and when I get agitated, I lose it too. It is a whole different article, but for the purposes of this conversation, I’m sharing what works for me in receiving criticism. I accept it all. All. Even if you call me a murderer, terrorist, whatever. Note. I don’t agree. I accept. I accept that this is how you see me. That helps tremendously, because you feel heard. That takes out a lot of the anger. The acceptance of your view. I even apologize for causing hurt. I may not regret my actions, thoughts or whatever I did, but I can regret causing hurt. I can regret causing a distance that is creating trouble for both. That’s it. Beyond that is the terrain of conversation and finding solutions.

Please note, there is one danger here. Do not talk like a call center operative. “Sir I regret the inconvenience caused to you , but we cannot do anything about this”. If your apology has a but, you’ve screwed up. Say again, without conditions. Complete your apology, and explain whatever you need to separately, not as a clause on your newfound humility.

Listen. Really, deeply listen

I used to listen with one ear, while planning counter-arguments in my mind. In essence, I stopped listening at the first objectionable thing I encountered. Since I love to talk, that also meant I found objectionable things easily. In other words, I am argumentative. I am learning to listen first, and then respond from wherever the end of the listening brings me to. There is no hurry. Once I got more used to this, I started appreciating that it also makes me more able to bring up more useful issues, rather than the first one I found. The other thing I found was that my replies had more meaning, more purpose, because I understood what I was replying to. Actually, this should have been at the top of the list, because this one thing alone has ended many conflicts for me. Without saying a word. Transformed bitter enemies into lifelong fans. Without saying one word. The root of many problems is the feeling of being neglected after being wronged. Being unheard, uncared. When I listened, that ended the problem in many cases. But not listening and planning dinner in my mind. Really listening to what the person is trying to say. I don’t have to agree, disagree or anything. I only need to pay attention. There is a post I wrote on the power of listening long ago, which you might find interesting, though it isn’t about differences or conflict as such.

There are many, many insights, but these are the biggies. And this is not a lecture or training or something. It is a sharing of something I find value in. So yes, these are the ones. The ones I won’t even dilute attention from by adding more.

I hope you find them meaningful and useful.