This past week, on Good Friday, I finally actually took a day off. Most of my clients were closed, so I chose to spend the day with my youngest daughter. We went into the city to see a fun and interesting “Big Apple Circus” for the day. While we could have easily driven, my daughter really wanted to take the train into the city – so we boarded in our local town. I have taken the train many, many times but it is different when looking out the window with a 7-year-old. I saw things I typically don’t notice.
Most importantly, I noticed how very different the same old things looked to me when I viewed them through the window of the train. There are certain towns we go through, industrial parks where I visit clients, stores where I shop, etc. that looked so different to me when I was sailing past them in a train from a totally different vantage point. I found it hard to get my bearings and feel like I knew where I was and what was coming next!
The experience reminded me how hard it can be to play “interested observer” and step outside of our everyday built-in filters when we are trying to understand others or work and live with them more effectively. I see things the way I’ve always seen them, and asking me to look at them differently means I feel uncomfortable at times and can’t seem to get my bearings! We want to be open-minded and come at a relationship or situation a different way, but in too many cases it puts us so far out of our comfort zone that we go back to looking through the lens that feels most natural to us.
When thinking about filters, the exercise that I find most useful is to pretend that the other person is someone different from what I am used to. So if they are a colleague who “always pushes my buttons because they are late to meetings,” I imagine them to be someone who is on time. I don’t criticize them, I don’t expect them to be late; rather, I focus on how close to the time they show up and what an important contribution they may make once they arrive.
Or in my personal life, when my teenage daughter acts like a teenager, I imagine her to be the little girl who wrote me love notes and told me I was the “Best mommy ever.” As she yells at me for some infraction I have committed, I actually see her with her pigtails and her sweet younger face. It allows me to approach her differently and refrain from yelling back or becoming defensive.
With my clients, when I feel I am not getting through or am frustrated by our lack of progress, I imagine the situation to be working well and for us to be finding joint solutions. It helps me to get unstuck from an endless loop and start to think about possibilities.
Am I deluding myself? In some ways yes, but in another way I am choosing to put a different frame around the situation. Instead of going back into the same dance over and over with the person involved, I am choosing to think that it COULD be different. Pretending allows me to open my mind to other possibilities and see people through a different lens. It doesn’t always magically change what’s happening, but it gives me more choices in how I can deal with the person involved. I am able to get unstuck by taking this different viewpoint.
But, admittedly, it’s uncomfortable. It pulls me into unknown territory and forces me to give up my assumptions about the other person. Like looking out the train window, I sometimes feel disoriented and as if “I have never been here before.”
This week, try stepping outside of your comfort zone with someone who pushes your buttons. Try imaging them to be a more positive aspect in your life. You may find you learn something about that other person – and, maybe more importantly, about yourself too!