It’s amazing how little things can really fester, whether at work or at home. Someone speaks to us in a less than respectful tone and we jump to conclusion that they are a ‘mean’ person, or they interrupt us and we consider them rude, or they come into our office to ask for something and we think they are pushy or intrusive. Sound familiar?
We judge people and situations constantly based on our own frame of reference.
If we’re extroverts, we might consider those who don’t speak up meek or timid; if we’re introverts, we might judge extroverts as forthright or pushy. Neither judgment is considered a positive by the person making it.
When I was a manager of a department, I asked for agenda items at the beginning of weekly staff meetings. I assumed that silent staff weren’t interested or had nothing to say. After our department took the Myers Briggs test, I learned the quiet staff were introverts who preferred to get the agenda in advance so they could think about their responses ahead of time. It was a great lesson in the danger of assumptions and the importance of acknowledging different working styles.
Finding common ground means looking beyond stereotypes and trying to understand the issue or situation from the other person’s perspective.
It means being open to listening to the other person’s viewpoint – not like a cat ready to spring with our response, but really hearing what they say. Sometimes it helps to summarize what the person has said to be sure you have understood their message – which lets the speaker feel heard and gives them a chance to restate their message if it wasn’t fully understood. It means asking questions for further clarification.
It doesn’t mean we need to agree. When I really disagree with someone and neither of us is going to change our minds, I often like to say “Let’s agree to disagree on this issue.” This at least provides a common ground ending on that topic.
Finding common ground requires emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is understanding and taking responsibility for our feelings, and showing respect for other people’s feelings. It includes several key components:
- Self Awareness - The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others.
- Self regulation - The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods; the ability to suspend judgment – to think before acting.
- Empathy – The ability to understand the emotional make up of other people; skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.
- Social skill - Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks; an ability to find common ground and build rapport.
Building Common Ground Begins with Personal Spiritual Practice
My practice includes taking personal responsibility for my words and actions, being mindful of the impact of my words and actions on others and making adjustments where necessary, caring about the wellbeing and feelings of others, and nurturing my relationships.
To nurture my relationships – at work, at home, with friends – I need to be sure that each relationship is free of misunderstandings and conflict. Where misunderstandings occur, and of course they do, I take time to speak with the person with as open mind as I can to talk about the misunderstanding and what we can both do to clear it.
The more open I am, the more able I am to hear any concern and make amends or adjustments in my words or actions. Sometimes the misunderstanding is just that – and talking about it clears up confusion. Sometimes it’s a difference of opinion or upset about different ways of doing things, and talking about it honestly can dissipate the energy and lead to healing. I don’t need to change my mind – just understand their perspective.
Intent is key!
When talking with someone about a misunderstanding, is my intention to heal the difference, or do I want to score points or get back at the person? Clearly, a healing intention supports common ground, while the intent to score points shatters it.
When I speak up with an intent to heal, I am vulnerable and I open the door to a deeper kind of dialogue. I have found that misunderstandings or even conflict have deepened a relationship if both of us are willing to be vulnerable and to really listen.
I encourage you to review your relationships. Check your intention, and see if there are conversations you might want to have to clear up differences – you may be very glad you did.