How we interpret things plays a vital role in where our time, energy, and attention goes. While it can be very clear to know what our intentions are, how often do we consider what another’s intention might be?
When we encounter a driver who cuts us off in traffic, do we believe he meant to be violent? What about the relative who nags you about the status of your love life? Was it her objective to irritate you?
What we believe is another’s “intention” colors how we perceive the tone of an email, text, social media post, or even a lack of a response. But in fact, what we presume about someone else’s motives reflects our perception of what we believe to be true of this world and the human condition.
Instead of hunkering down in an assumption and then becoming angry, resentful, offended, sad, and distressed; why not do something about it? Here are six tips to free yourself:
1. Take a beat.
Before reacting in the moment to something that’s been said or you’ve read, ask yourself, What do I really know about this person? What do I think they're aiming to do? When we know very little about a person, how can we possibly make conclusions about the innermost part of their mind? We can’t.
2. Evaluate your beliefs.
What do you regard as truth in this lifetime? Do you feel unworthy and therefore think that everyone is critical of everything you do? Are you convinced success emboldens people to look down on everyone below them? We have to take responsibility for our own frame of reference. Sometimes we can project that onto something that isn’t there.
3. Practice compassion.
Not everything is as purposeful as we think. Accidents happen. People are distracted by pain, worry, and stress beyond what we know in the moment. (For example: The person whose phone rings during yoga class. Do you think they wanted that to happen?)
4. Ask for clarification.
Sometimes it’s best to flush out a contentious situation in a calm, open way by asking the other person what they intended to do, or what had they wanted to accomplish. You may get an honest answer and you may not. But at least you can try to give it a chance. Some people do not act with purpose, they're just unconsciously reacting. The point is, you’ll now know what kind of person you’re dealing with instead of assuming a false reality. You might be surprised to find it was a simple misunderstanding and you grow closer because of this conversation.
5. State it upfront.
We’re not immune to someone misconstruing our intentions, either. Sometimes it’s helpful to just say what it is with something like, “I don’t mean to sound critical but I’m trying to understand _______. Help me to get it from your perspective.” Or, “It’s my intention for this meeting to be more of a free flowing conversation of ideas and everyone should get a chance to contribute.” Stating clearly what the tone of the agenda is can neutralize hostility for a sensitive topic or set an expectation for trying something out of the ordinary.
6. Be the change.
The more we act in the way of our higher selves, plants the idea in others. We have the ability to inspire or expire each other’s vitality in very small but impactful ways. Having the feeling of being understood is unanimous for everyone. We shape our own destiny by practicing more love and empathy for those around us and expanding our comprehension of who someone is, is a meaningful way to do that.
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