Have you ever said something with positive intent, but were met with criticism after doing so?
Since starting my travels and my deeper dive into the origins, reasons, and tangible impacts of fear, becoming more aware than ever of my own fears is a must.
I mean, how can I share expertise on a subject that is not always visible, if I too, do not have a deep understanding of its impact on my own life?
But I digress.
There is a woman in the US that I admire greatly, that, at some point, I hope our paths cross in a way that we can continue to explore a long-term relationship.
However, because of where we are at on our current paths, it’s not possible, and I accept and respect that.
Recently, we were catching up over Facebook messenger, as I sat and listened to some local musical flavor, over tapas and a glass of wine.
I was excited about chatting with her, as I had missed the conversations we use to have daily, prior to me leaving Austin.
During our conversation I expressed my excitement for her, pertaining to a new program that she is taking part in, that will likely help her with some major changes in her career…
And if anything like my experience and of my peers, it will change all areas of her life.
But when I expressed a statement of, “this will change your life”…
I was not met with mutual excitement.
I was met with analysis of my words.
I was met with frustration.
I was met with an interpretation of my words, that didn’t match my intention.
In my mind, I was met with criticism for trying to be supportive.
The smile I had on my face quickly faded.
The energetic vibe of the local Spanish restaurant faded into the distance.
I quickly went from feeling energetic to sad.
And not sad with life.
Nor sad with anything other than that I really care about this woman.
In many ways, she is special to me.
I have learned so much from her, and I was sad that my statement that was of positive intent, created the opposite effect.
And that’s when the fear set in.
The unease that led to questions of…
“What did I say wrong?”
“Were my words condescending?”
“How should I have said it?”
What is so hard about relationships of any kind, especially close ones, we are most impacted emotionally, from the ones we care for the most.
So whatever emotional reactiveness we carry around, is often reserved for those we care for the most.
And I know for me, that had my statement been misinterpreted by someone other, I know the depth of sadness I felt because of it would have been less intense, if present.
Not because I don’t care for others, or their success, but it’s the nature of relationships. We as people get the greatest joy and sadness from the relationships that carry the most depth within our hearts.
And this interaction was a perfect example.
I didn’t want to hurt her.
I didn’t want to criticize her.
I didn’t want to do anything other than express excitement for her.
And as I sat there wondering…
What did I do wrong?
What should I do differently?
What the hell do I do?
I paused…. And remembered
That no matter how I say or do anything, the truth is, I can not control how people think or act.
All I can control is how I initially communicate, and respond in an ongoing dynamic that can not, and should not be over analyzed.
I also had to remember how important it is for us to take a step back from our own agendas, points, and perspective,
And put ourselves in their shoes.
Because honestly, during the interaction, all I felt was a tug-o-war on my mind saying…
“What the hell, I was just trying to be nice”
“Well, maybe she is right and I’m the asshole”
“I will just never say anything nice again”
Fear says I should…
Run away and never talk again
Fight with her to prove your point
Freeze and accept that you are wrong
And in this case, neither would serve me.
Neither of those options align with what I want.
Because what I want is to maintain a growing friendship with her, as a more intimate relationship will not work for either of us at this point in life.
And most importantly for me to know was that my intentions were good, and that my words were meant to be supportive, and nothing more.
Yes, it is important to understand the perspective of the person we speak with, and honestly take a real look at the validity of their views.
But as we do that, and our mind is going back and forth deciding…
How do I respond?
Take a moment and think about a few things
#1 Your intentions: Were your words fully about support, mutual respect, and the well being of this peroson, or might there be condescending or destructive tone
#2 The importance of the relationship: As I said, the more important the relationship, the more likely we are to get triggered to defend, criticize, or feel a rollercoaster of emotions.
#3 What the other person is saying: It’s not all about making a point. If we want our relationships to last and grow, we must be able to look at it from their perspective, and see if there is an opportunity for us to change.
#Know when to walk away: Sometimes, we get so caught up in the conversation about; who is right, said what, and proving a point, that we don’t realize how destructive the conversation has gotten. Shut up the ego and know when the conversation has begun to hurt yourself and the person you care for, and politely walk away.
So what did I do after all the inner dialogue, and back and forth over messenger?
Responding in line with what I said to think about…
#1: I know in this interaction my words were that of support and nothing else
#2: I knew and know that I do want to keep an ongoing friendship with her, and it is important to me
#3: I recognize that no matter my intent, she was not hearing it in the way it was intended. And, as much as it’s hard to do so, I respect the fact she has a right to feel that way. I’m not required to agree, but it’s important I recognize her view and perspective, versus only focusing on my point of view.
#4: The conversation never seemed to get back on track, and was not going in a direction that I thought either one of us would be thrilled about tomorrow or a week from now. So I walked away saying that I was “done with the conversation”.
In hindsight on #4, if I could change anything about the conversation, I would provided more information to her about why I was walking away, as my statement was a bit vague.
At the end of the day, fear was driving this entire conversation.
We fear criticism, and she felt criticized and undervalued
We fear losing people we care about, and I didn’t want to lose our friendship
We fear being wrong, because that could imply we are not good enough
And at the same time, we fear walking away, as we often think that it will worsen the situation.
The truth is, relationships are not always easy.
But that’s not a reason to avoid them, because I have taken that road too. And the reason I avoided them was out of fear that I didn’t know how to have a relationship.
And, because of the fact that all my previous relationships didn’t work out, so my fear was telling me there is no reason to keep failing.
When we are willing to accept that we are all human at the end of the day..
And possess fear about failure, rejection, and criticism, we can better relate to each other, and evolve the relationships that mean the most to us, versus tearing them apart with our need to prove a point, or be “right” all of the time.
Don’t run from the fear that is within us, or from the people we care about.
The secret is to change our relationship with fear, not remove it from our life completely, as that is not possible.