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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back February 2, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Mindfulness, People.

If we want to diffuse conflict, rather than escalate it, we can take two steps back and just observe what’s happening. 

Instead of remaining in the middle of the argument, we step out of the fray and into the role of detached observer so we can really see what’s going on.

The first time I stepped into the role of detached observer, the results astonished me.

A young secretary came to my office, irate about personal issues.  She felt that I had insulted her, and claimed that I had done so intentionally. 

In her anger, she spouted off a number of unflattering opinions she held about me.

I listened.

I did not rush to defend my reputation.  I did not argue with her about her opinions.  I stepped into her shoes and heard exactly what she was saying. 

When we are not planning a defense (or an offense), we listen better.

I let her talk until she finished saying what she had on her mind. 

When she stopped, I said, “From your perspective, I see why you would think that.” 

That’s all. 

I did not argue with her.  I did not defend what I’d done.  I did not resort to calling her names.  I just told her that I understood why she had formed the opinions she had formed.

Because I did.  I knew that I had not acted from malice or from the intent to hurt or condescend, but I could see why she, viewing things from a different vantage point, might have seen things as she had. 

I did not agree with her opinions, but I could see how she had formed them from her observation point.

She opened her mouth to argue further, then shut it; she realized there was nothing to argue about.

Knowing that she had been heard calmed her down. 

Knowing that I was not going to argue with her about the validity of her opinions caused her to silence herself.

And then we talked. 

We became, if not friends, at least friendlier.

Does taking two steps back to observe what’s going on always work? 

No.  Not always. 

Years later, a similar conflict arose. 

Someone asked me to step into his shoes and attempt to see things from his perspective. 

I complied with the request, but did not succeed in the endeavor. 

His perspective seemed skewed, dishonest, and lacking in integrity.  His public apology did not mesh with his later “change of heart.” His private comments belied the sincerity of his views and opinions.  As I watched events unfold, his public persona disappeared.  His “mask” had slipped.  

It became apparent that he wanted to escalate “nothing” into “something” to manipulate me into feeling guilty.  

Perhaps he professed hurt because he wanted to receive an apology to mirror his own, however insincere? 

After several attempts, we realized that continuing the discussion would not benefit either of us, so we parted ways.  

Every time we say something, we run the risk that someone will choose to take offense.  

When others rush to take offense, are their hurt feelings our responsibility? 

Should we offer insincere apologies to placate them?

Quote:  Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

How about you?  Have you ever stepped into the role of detached observer with good results? 

Did your recognition of an adversary’s sincere concerns and opinions pave the way for a stronger alliance? 

Or did you part ways, knowing that not every relationship is meant to last?

No rules.  Just write!

Related posts:  Toughen Up! * We Can Choose NOT To Be Offended * Better Thoughts -> Better Results * Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little LiesTo Thine Own Self Be True * Kindly Be Honest * Are You OK Right Now? * Deal With It, Princess (Raptitude)