Fifteen to twenty times each year I am asked to mediate in deteriorating and antagonistic relationships. Most often these are workplace related where the destructive impact of a hostile relationship spreads far beyond the people, or groups, involved.
Of course, conflict among people is not new and the factors contributing to conflict are limited only to one’s imagination.
There is however one thread that seems to weave its way through all conflict and perpetuate its continuation.
That thread is a belief held by many that we have the extraordinary ability to read the minds of others and accurately determine their motives for their actions.
We believe we know precisely why people do what they do. We often insert malice into their motives, we form judgements which then becomes the only lens through which we view all their actions.
That lens is most often a harshly critical one which causes us to only expect certain types of behaviours from them.
Here is the kicker: the labels we have attached seldom disappoint us. The exhortation to “seek and ye shall find” becomes our unconscious guiding principle and, as we are earnestly seeking validation of those labels, we easily find them.
My practice, in mediating these types of situations, is to meet individually with each person involved to gain an understanding of the perspective they bring to the situation.
It is common for me to hear statements like, “She gets pleasure out of pushing people around,” “He is power-hungry,” “She does this because she is mean-spirited,” and “I have spoken to my manager and he won’t do anything about it because he doesn’t care about me.”
Whenever we attribute reason, motive and meaning to the actions of others we do so with the certainty that we are right. And yet, let’s be honest, we have absolutely no way of knowing that.
And because we are so certain that we are correct, we narrow our perspective and run the risk of ignoring common ground on which understanding and agreement could be reached.
Whenever I hear that type of motive being offered as explanation for the behaviour of another, I have learned to ask a simple question; “How do you know that?”
I’ve learned not to accept answers like, “It’s obvious” or “Everyone knows that.” In fact, by asking those questions I have often seen people begin to self-examine their reasons for arriving at conclusions and coming to accept that all they may be offering is their opinion and not anything else.
The truth is we have absolutely no knowledge of why anyone does anything. We can never guess the motive – the driving force – behind their actions and by convincing ourselves that we can, we also lessen the possibility of transforming difficult situations.
The guiding principle behind our beliefs is my go-to mantra: “Everything we believe to be true, is true (for us), until it isn’t. In other words, we form our own beliefs and most often they are based on a foundation of opinion and not on fact.
A wise teacher once told me that we can never experience true freedom in our own beings until we are willing to relinquish our ability to judge others.
I would love to report that I have been successful in this endeavour, but I not. Although, I am far less judgemental, the reality is I still have to work on this every day.
Many experiences have taught me I only make my life more difficult when I judge others.
One the best ways to work toward being less judgemental is to abide by the sage words of Dr. Steven Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” While I am not a mind reader, it would seem he had a monumental life living by this practice.
Till we read again.