Monday, June 15, 2009

Imagine: The Golden Rule

After years in management, I've encountered many situations where one employee comes to me with an issue with another. When I listen to one side of the story, it seems like there is no other view and I understand completely why they are upset. Then, thinking I know the entire story, I sit down with the other person, and wow, amazing how there are two sides to every story.

I've tried to use this technique when mediating an argument in my personal life, in particular when dealing with fights between my kids. One would feel they are so completely right, and after hearing the other side, the same applies. I've learned, through parenthood and management (in fact, being a parent really helped me at work) that the very simplest technique in resolving conflict really and truly is the golden rule.

The toughest part in this philosophy is to live it myself. To practice what I preach. But the more I do it, the better it works, and it seems to help me release some anger and frustration when in a difficult situation.

When I find myself in a situation when I am upset with someone I try to pretend I am in their shoes. Sometimes, in my mind, I argue their point back to myself, taking their side. If someone is upset with something I said, I try to think about if someone said those words to me, how I might take it. I have found that maybe it's the context, or the history of conflicts in the past. Maybe you or they are bringing up old feelings with a current statement and maybe, just maybe the frustration has nothing to do with you. So many times, we personalize things, and make it all about "us" that we lose perspective on the argument. If, during a conflict, we were able to think about the others' life experience and what they might be feeling, it is amazing how you and they, can sometimes soften and the situation can be diffused.

I believe that people come into your life for a reason, and that even the worst circumstance can teach us something. I was reflecting on this recently after thinking about a person who came into my life a couple of years ago. Highly critical, defensive, and negative, this person found fault in almost every person and situation in his life. And because of his high IQ, he had an inability to see any view but his own because he thought he was always right.

Now that so much time has passed I can see the situation more clearly, and my experience with him while negative at the time, helped me grow and learn. It was dealing with him that taught me a lot about handling challenging and negative people. The ultimate lesson I learned from this person was that sometimes, no strategies work, and that walking away for good is often is the best and only solution.

Two people looking at a similar set of circumstances can draw completely different conclusions based on their life experiences. Two people can look at the same painting and see a completely different picture. The key to resolution might be to get each side to look at the situation from the others' point of view. To literally step into another's shoes for a minute and try to feel what they feel, face their circumstance. To think that maybe that person behind the counter snapping at us may be on no sleep because she is caring for an elderly parent.

Imagine if we could practice this strategy not only in our home, but in our workplace, our country and our world. Imagine if the parent yielding the fist had the view of the child looking up. If the criminal with the gun were standing behind the counter. If the prison guard were looking from behind bars. Imagine if leaders of a country viewed the world from the perspective of the people living in the town.

My prayer is that even if just for today, we imagine we are someone else. That just for today, we treated another exactly how we would want to be treated.

"Imagine all the for today. You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one." ~John Lennon