One of the kindest things we can do for one another, is to speak both honestly and gently, and to then be willing to sit with whatever response arises next.
Trying to figure out how to talk about a touchy topic with someone in my life this week, I asked a friend of mine help me find the right words.
Should I say this, or that?
Should I say it in this order, or that order?
Should I include this, or that, or leave it all out?
After some time, she remarked, “I think it’s complicated because you keep trying to control their reaction. So what if they get upset? Can’t that just be OK?”
The moment she said this, I could see it.
Keeping our focus on managing other people’s reactions is a recipe for disempowerment.
The more we focus on anticipating, predicting and controlling someone else’s reactions, the more we can lose our clarity, our connection and our power.
We get so hijacked by our fear-based predictions of how unpleasantly others might react, that we can find ourselves tied up in knots and in relational dead-ends.
These two questions help me stay grounded and focused when I am caught up in that old swirl:
1. Who do I want to be?
When my deep intention is to show up with integrity and kindness, I have more resources available to me than when I am just trying to make sure that someone else doesn’t react in a particular way.
By focusing my energy on speaking with honesty and kindness, I keep my attention on what I am able to control (myself) instead of everything that is outside of my control (everyone else’s reactions).
As long as I am aiming for direct, truthful and gentle, I trust myself to take a risk, and learn from whatever the outcome is.
We are responsible for how we show up, not for how others respond to us.
One of the reasons we forget this simple truth is that we don’t trust ourselves to handle their reactions. What if they get upset with me? What if they don’t like what I am saying?
That’s when I move to the second question:
2. Do I have the capacity to field whatever comes next?
When I remind myself to just greet others’ reactions with empathy and deep listening, I feel more courageous. When I stop seeing upset or angry emotions as evidence that I have done something “wrong,” I can instead trust my ability to field, empathize and work with others’ responses.
Changing my focus from “How are they going to take this?” to “How can I show up with kindness and integrity, no matter what?” is liberating and clarifying. Sometimes, I just need to reassure myself that I have the capacity to respond to whatever comes my way non-defensively and empathically.
We still care how we impact other people, it’s just that we are no longer controlled by our fear of how they may react to us.
This is a subtle but important distinction: not being controlled by our fear of someone’s reaction, doesn’t mean not caring about the impact we still have on them.
Acting from integrity, with love, often means letting go of how other people may take things. “Caring about” and “being controlled by” are two qualitatively different internal experiences.
So, if you’d like more choice, freedom and effectiveness in your own relationships, stop fearfully trying to manage or control how everyone else responds to you.
Instead, ground yourself in who you want to be, take a courageous risk,and trust yourself to field the impact and stay connected even if it gets a little messy for a while!
And, as always – if you’d like help with this, drop in to our Conversations from the Heart practice group on Wednesday mornings, or hop on one of my monthly coaching calls ….
“A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want.” David Whyte