I recently moved into a new place and I set about doing my best to become part of the community.
Except it seemed like I kept making mistakes. I was supposed to clean this in a certain way. I wasn’t supposed to pick that from the garden. I didn’t ask the right person about whether or not I could use this. The list goes on and on.
Mistakes Were Made
I was doing my best to be mindful, but when you’re new, you make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are met with understanding, sometimes they’re met with irritation.
It’s not so much a factor of how nice the people are or how clear the guidelines may be. The real key is the assumptions other people make about what’s going on in your mind.
You will make an error and someone will begin to say something. As they speak you realize they have already formed an opinion about who you are and why you are doing this.
I have seen in the eyes of others dialogues about me being selfish. Stories about me being dirty and thoughtless. Stories of my malice, my rudeness, and my general disregard for others. It matters little whether their assessments are true. The mind seeks to rationalize others actions.
I do this just as much. There are times I make up stories about the stories they must be telling. I have projected many ideas onto other people.
But it’s always hard to know what to do about it. Arguing with others’ stories is useless unless there is trust. And very often, there isn’t.
So, what do your do when you confront others strong opinions about who you are?
1. Listen the Best You Can.
People want to be heard more than anything else. Even if they have a story about you, it’s best to just listen. Try to hear what they are saying without objecting internally or externally.
2. Reflect Without Ownership
Reflect their perspective using phrases like these: “So you imagined when I did …” and “From your perspective that meant…” Don’t take on blame or guilt, but reflect their perspective. Until we feel heard by someone else, it’s hard to be open to another way of seeing. Arguing with their stories really won’t help.
3. Don’t Own the Story Internally or Externally
I want to reiterate, DON’T OWN THE STORY. It’s their story, know that it isn’t true. One perspective is rarely true.
Only if the person is a trusted advisor should you hold their perspective with a lot of weight. We rarely see ourselves with clarity and are even less clear in seeing others. Because everything is filtered through our own lens.
4. Ask Them to Make a Specific Doable Request
Once you feel like you have heard their story or complaint ask them to make a specific doable request.
Unsure what that is? A specific doable request is something you could film on an iPhone before the battery dies. For example, you would be willing to take out the trash tomorrow or help with the dishes tonight.
Avoid vague requests such as, ‘Can you clean better?’ Or, ‘Can you communicate more?’
These are common requests but they have no back end and no way to know if you’re doing them. Without specific parameters, you will never know if you have completed the request.
The request also can’t be a demand or an ultimatum. If the request comes in the form of, do this or else, it’s a demand. The ‘or else’ may be implied or very blatant in either case it isn’t a good faith request.
If it’s a demand, there isn’t much you can do about it. You can try to change it into a request but it may not work. Usually demands stay demands, and in either case the next step is …
4. Are You Willing to Do it?
Are you are willing to meet their request from a place of authenticity and integrity? Submitting to someone else’s desires won’t work over the long haul. If you can honor the request in good faith, great!
Clarify what they are asking and let them know you’d be happy to do it. If you aren’t then say so or excuse your self from the situation and perhaps the relationship.
Relationships are built on trust and safety. If you don’t feel safe, then the relationship won’t work.
Be polite and firm. Offer negotiation if you are willing to negotiate, but life is too short to give up yourself to others.
No relationship is worth sacrificing who you are as a person. Harmony is just as important as respecting your own boundaries.
What is one area of your life where you struggle to create and maintain boundaries?
Come up with 2-3 strategies to start creating boundaries in that part of your life.
Practice saying No in a kind gentle way to things you only do out of obligation.
Practice saying Yes to your life, your values, and your own authentic self.