4 Keys to Responding Instead of Reacting.
I have some friends.
They are exceptional at being present and they are good at being called on theirwhen it is out of line with who they say they are or want to be. They’re also exceptional at doing the same for me.
However in the last two days I had two different, amazing friends of mine tell me over a cuppa that they weren’t happy with something I said. One brought up something that happened over three months ago, that both he and his partner hadn’t liked. Let’s call him Kevin.
Kevin wanted to remind me about something I had said the last time he and his partner were at my place: “I don’t know if I ever told you that, but I wanted to let you know it was inappropriate.”
Interesting. Who decides what’s appropriate or inappropriate? By what standards do we measure this? And surely it’s different for every person? So how does that work with more than seven billion people interacting on a daily basis?
What I realized as I reflected upon this situation, is that two things were happening. First, he was communicating his boundaries to me about how he wants me to behave, particularly around his partner (that’s fair, but three months later?). Second, neither himself nor his partner were taking responsibility for how they’re reacting to what I said.
My view is that they were reacting this way because they viewed my behaviour as “bad” and he appeared to be telling me off the way parents tell off their children. How often we see this dynamic playing out in society between friends, colleagues, spouses and within countless other relationships.
And so I just sat there, somewhat gobsmacked that my friend was still missing this piece. For someone who had taught me so much about being present and not missing the lessons, he was so caught up in the story, he couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and his body language told me it was not up for discussion.
Fast forward to yesterday and I was sitting with a couple of friends of mine. I knew my girlfriend, let’s call her Jesse, wanted to talk to me about something, as we’d been playing phone tag for a couple of days. As our guy friend left to go for a walk, Jesse launched straight into telling me that she didn’t like a text message I sent her, that it made her feel bad.
I hadn’t known what she wanted to talk about, but since we often do coaching and healing session swaps for one another, I figured she’d found some other piece that she wanted help clearing.
So when she said this, it very much came as a surprise. And as Jesse explained to me which words had “hurt her,” I found myself again looking with interest, as I had with my friend Kevin, wondering what the heck was going on.
Why was this beautiful, spirited, present, powerful woman behaving in a reactionary way and getting thrown by a well-thought out, gentle but honest text message? How was she going to cope when people didn’t take time to craft their thoughts before expressing them? How was she going to handle straight out criticism as she becomes more and more well known as a speaker?
I was grateful that Jesse was open, unlike Kevin, to explore why she was feeling the way she was. And in that space we got to look at these powerful questions and she then had the space to work out what she needed and wanted to do differently. She gave me the space to explain why I had use those particular words and what those words meant to me, and for her to express what those words meant to her.
And so we were able to come to a place of mutual understanding and respect through open and courageous dialogue, that my other friend Kevin hadn’t been open or willing to do.
What I came to realise was that in both instances they were working too much and not playing enough. They both felt trapped by their circumstances, particularly with the struggles they were having with money and didn’t feel they were allowed to fully express themselves in the way they most wanted to. This lead to them being tired, and more likely to react rather than respond in a calm, present and curious way.
We all have a role to take in being responsible.
1. Get grounded.
2. Notice when you’re over analysing.
3. When someone says something you don’t like, take a deep breath before speaking.
4. Appreciate that everyone is different.