A wonderful friend was saddened by the loss of her relationship with her grandson. She had raised him and had been his anchor during his parents’ acrimonious divorce. She was devastated by his decision to go live in another city and stop all contact.
Then, after an entire year apart, she got a terse text message from him asking for financial help. She was understandably fuming and hurting. She wrote fiery words back about being taken for granted, and how dare he sever ties and now expect her to just hand over money!
Wanting to be right can have a high cost
Before she pressed SEND, she read the e-mail to me, secure in the knowledge that she was right. I looked up from my food and asked her if she was prepared to lose her grandson. Well of course not! She spoke again of all the hurt and sadness. We continued eating our lunch. She went back to her response and read it to me again.
I took a few bites and finally said: You may have lost me when you said: “After all I have done for you!” Or possibly when you pleaded: “Why won’t you talk to us anymore?!” Or when you stated: “Unfortunately, the money comes with the condition that you spend time with us.”
She started to laugh. This is a highly intelligent woman, yet her emotional quotient was being hijacked by the age old, primal human dance of I’m right-he’s wrong: Gone is the possibility of finding a more open way of engaging and learning from each other.
We continued to eat our lunch while she mulled this over. That evening, she tried texting again, this time with a different approach. She shared with him:
- An observation devoid of emotional charge: ”This is the first text message I have gotten from you in 12 months.”
- Her feelings, unvarnished: “I’m glad to hear from you”; “I’m sad that you cut me out of your life. I’m upset that after all this time, your first message is about money.”
- Her thoughts and conclusions based on her perception: “I wonder whether you avoided me because you perceive me as the enemy.”
- Her want: “I care deeply about you, and I want to support you.”
- Her respectful request: “Can you share with me what’s happening?”
Well, the floodgates opened. The young man shared the daunting difficulties he was facing and how he needed her help. He wrote and wrote and wrote. My friend was ecstatic. She got her grandson back! A miracle? Not really, she simply stayed curious, keeping the desired end in mind (a renewed relationship with her grandson), along with an open heart.
Let’s contrast the two approaches
I’ll call the first one Righteous Me and the second, Curious Me.
- You are wrong, I am right
- I know the answers
- You! You!
- I have the arguments ready for a short and bloody fight.
- I win, you lose, but actually…We both lose
- We have two different stories
- I am curious about yours
- I notice, I feel, I think
- I want to keep the dialogue open until I fully appreciate your position, intention and actions
- I am open to learning more about you…We both win
In the end it’s a choice
Do I want to be right, or am I ready to suspend judgment and be curious about the other? When the relationship matters, I may want to leave the door open to learning something new.