In my last post, I posed a question about whether you can catch yourself when you're about to make an assumption about another person's thoughts or actions, and whether you can choose to move toward curiosity instead of judgment--a crucial awareness if you want to have more skilled conversations.
I think now a more important question than "whether" you can catch yourself is "why you might want to".
As I read and re-read the post, I came to see it as naive. Those of us who want to catch ourselves making assumptions will do it and get better at it. And there are some who don't want to get better and maybe don't care. It confirms our sense of identity, I think, to latch onto an opinion, belief, or value, and not let go. Even when there's strong evidence to the contrary, we don't want to see that evidence. It might shake our sense of what's right and wrong, our view of the world.
My work is about conflict transformation. I want to find the opportunity in the difficult, the "god in the garbage" as my friend Joy Jacobs would say. What is right about what's wrong? I'm not alone. Probably you feel similarly or you wouldn't be reading this. But there are those who don't want to learn from conflict or create conversations that surface solutions. They want to be right. I want to be right sometimes, too. I admit it. But most of the time, I would rather solve the problem or build the relationship, or see what I'm not seeing.
If you're in that camp with me, and you see conflict as a means to build awareness, learn from others, and create sustainable solutions, then you're already doing the hard work. I know there are times when you just want to be right. I have them, too. I barge ahead, pushing back instead of asking questions and listening. But I have awareness enough to know I'm making a choice to barge ahead, possibly at great expense. With that awareness I realize I'm making a decision, and I know I can stop myself at any point, center, and make a different one.
I Just Want to Be Right
If you're in the "I just want to be right--because I AM right--and I want to convert others to my way of thinking" camp, I encourage you to ask yourself some questions:
- Are you aware of wanting to be "right"?
- What are the costs, if any?
- How is being right (even when you are) helping you live the life you want for yourself?
- What is the quality of your relationships, and is that okay?
- When (and how often) are you successful in converting people to your view?
- How often do you get curious (really curious) about people not in your camp, and how have you reached out to learn what they believe and why?
The Conversation Is All We Have
If you live, work, or are in close relationship with someone who needs to be right, and especially if you're on the receiving end of their judgment, get even more curious about them and their righteousness. Yes..... Get even more curious. Some questions you might ask them:
- Can you say more about why you believe as strongly as you do?
- What makes you want me/us to come over to your way of thinking?
- What would happen if we did, and what might happen if we don't?
- What hopes for us/our community/the world foster your beliefs?
When you can ask questions like this and are sincerely curious and non-judgmental in the asking, you will find more questions to ask that will offer your conflict partner a way to be heard. Their energy will have an outlet, and they may relax enough to be open to hearing you.
You have skills they don't have, and in this world our only hope is that those with skills begin to use them, regardless of how unskilled our partners may be in this conversation. Because the conversation is all we have. We have to start talking to each other. And it only takes one to begin.