Have you ever found yourself being confronted…challenged, by someone either verbally or via email, and been so angry all you could do was visualize their head exploding? (Alright maybe that’s a bit extreme, but you get the point.) Many years ago when my daughter was about 12, a woman saw her drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and asked, “How can you call yourself a vegetarian, when marshmallows have animal products in them? Obviously, you are not really a vegetarian.” Yes, when I heard about this later, I visualized her head exploding on the spot, and that’s putting it mildly. Then in the next moment, I realized I needed to offer some guidance to my daughter as to how to handle not only that confrontation – but any, that she will encounter over the course of her life.
Now you may be wondering why I am writing about an incident that happened nearly a decade ago… I can assure you it’s not for a lack of topics to write about! The reality is that this exact topic, mindful communication (or lack thereof) has come up a few times just over the last week. Stop and think for a moment about whether you react to what shows up in your inbox or if you mindfully respond. Here’s a clue; if you find yourself angry, frustrated, or have your feelings hurt by what you have read and immediately fire back a response hitting the send button with such ferocity, that the key board nearly shatters – you are reacting. This is a no win situation for anyone. The same can be said for verbal sparring.
Imagine getting an email from your boss, asking you if you actually know how to do your job?! Now, is that really the question being asked? If it is, he clearly doesn’t hire very well. The real issue was that something wasn’t getting done, and this was his way of showing his frustration. The truth is there is only one right response – which would have been to ask, “What was your intention with that question?” That question changes the dynamic of the entire conversation. You are no longer in a battle of wits tug of war, rather it forces someone to stop and think about what their true intention with their comment or question really was, regardless of what they said. Their actual intention and what was being said, had nothing to do with each other. Likely the intention was to motivate this person to get something done, it was just communicated in a very poor manner. However, by asking for the intention, you now have the opportunity to respond to the need to get things done – rather than responding to a communication style. (Not that you shouldn’t talk about the communication style, but that is a separate and very different conversation to be had.)
In closing, let’s go back to the fraudulent vegetarian who had the audacity to eat marshmallows – my daughter. Imagine if she would have responded with, “What is your intention with that question?” I wonder what that woman would have said. I wonder if it would have made her a more mindful communicator in the future. So, the next time you find yourself getting ready to react to something that is said to you, instead ask them what the intention is with what they are saying, and see how differently the outcome is to the conversation. This is not easy to do in the moment instead of reacting, but I can promise you it is worth it.
With mindful gratitude,