Dancing to a Different Tune

I was interviewed on three different radio shows this week – there is a strong interest, for most people in personal and business situations, in learning how to deal with those difficult others. I found myself on several occasions talking about the “dance” we get into with others. The dance goes like this: My sister says something she always says that irritates me, I respond the way I always do that irritates her, she responds again and so on. We dance the same steps to the same tune over and over again.

Did you ever stop and think why we do this? I mean if you know that someone irks you with what they say or do, why do you still respond in a habitual manner thinking the next time the response will be different? It’s silly, isn’t it – we know it won’t work, but we stick with what we know.

What happens when you decide to take a different step in the dance? I will never forget a time in my marriage where we had an issue that came up time and time again. We would always respond to each other the same way, and the issue was never resolved. One day, instead of responding in frustration as my husband always did, he responded with compassion: “I know this is a tough discussion for you. What can we do differently this time so we don’t get stuck?” Wow. The response knocked me right off my feet. I couldn’t even answer him for a while, and when I did it was with a much more thoughtful, caring manner.

Simply having him say something else, treat me differently and change the dynamic altered the entire response for me. I always tell people that we can’t change others – much to our chagrin.  But the truth is that when WE change, often times others change in response to us. If we take a different step on the dance floor, the other person is forced to take a different step, too. They may not step where we want them to, but we can be assured it won’t be the same steps they’ve previously taken.

This summer, as people prepare to spend a lot of time with families and long-time friends, it’s a good time to practice dancing to a different tune. We know the issues that bug us with those we love. We know what they are likely to do that will annoy or irritate us. So as we go to their homes, or meet them on vacation, we need to prepare in advance. We have to identify the dances we are likely to waltz into and make a conscious decision to dance to a different drummer!

Take a few minutes, before you go and meet family and friends, to identify those relationships that challenge you or cause you some sort of difficulty. Can you close your eyes and replay a past discussion where they said something, you responded and then the dance began? Remember how it went? Be prepared by knowing, so that when you greet them again this summer, and they say or do the thing that always sets you off, this time you will be prepared. Prepare your game plan in advance so instead of being robotic and reactive (as we often are in relationships), you can be proactive and ready to respond  in an entirely new fashion.

It can be fun to think about the situations where you’ll use your newfound dancing shoes. Pick at least one for the summer months and the travel you might have, and see if you can’t step differently and force your companion into a new dance with you.