About Loving Communication

The Dutch TV aired a re-run of an Oprah episode the other day, where Iyanla Vanzant returns to the show after 11 years. Oprah and her had parted ways 11 years ago after a “betrayal” and this was the first time they saw each other again. As viewers we became witness to a conversation in which they may or may not make up.

I loved how Iyanla set the tone by starting the conversation with a sincere, heartfelt apology:

“I love you. I have always loved you and had nothing but positive regard for you. And I am now so sorry. I am aware of how my behavior and my choices could have appeared to you and been experienced by you as betrayal. Please forgive me. Please! That was not my intention. Ever.”

Notice how she takes Oprah’s hands and keeps eye contact as she apologizes. Even though the conversation gets a little heated later on – this strong acknowledgment from both sides in the very beginning set the right intention for both parties and allowed them to keep coming back to a common ground – compassionately and even humorous at times.

It is evident that both party’s intention is to understand each other’s behaviors, reasonings and intentions during that conflict eleven years ago and then MOVE ON from there, while re-newing their relationship.

It is fascinating to watch their language, which doesn’t contain any blame or negative energy. Rather than “But you said…!” they phrase their statements like this “What I heard you saying/What I thought you were saying, is…” Can you hear the difference? It says, ”I’m not holding you responsible for how I feld about what I heard.” As opposed to “You made me feel bad!” It creates an open space. It allows the sender of the message to see how their words arrived on the other side. It bypasses their ego and wins over the desire to be right.

You never told me you liked me…

We all live in our own reality. We all judge situations by the way we see them; by the way we see the world. However how we see the world is colored by how we see ourselves. And how we see ourselves is coloured by our past experiences and the beliefs and rules we have made up for ourselves.

This becomes so very clear in the second part of the following small clip, where Iyanla says, “You never told me you liked me!” and Oprah is flabbergasted how Iyanla could have possibly missed how much she liked her (through the actions and behavior she showed to Iyanla).

Oprah and Iyanla Vanzant’s Misunderstanding

While this is clear evidence of Oprah and Iyanla speaking different love languages it becomes also clear that Iyanla wouldn’t have “heard” it no matter what language Oprah had spoken. Because she didn’t feel she deserved it. Because according to her own made-up rules, she felt she hadn’t worked hard enough for this yet.

The fame and the opportunities came too early in her perception. That’s why she couldn’t allow herself to receive. Watch how important it is to her to be heard by Oprah, who at first really doesn’t get it, because she doesn’t live by the same limiting rules.

 

We never know what’s going on in the other person. We never have the full story. We never truly know their feelings and fears, which might have influenced their behavior. Yet we constantly guess and then take our guesses for the truth.

 

Focus on intention!

Every behavior follows a positive intention. We make decisions and behave according to what makes sense to us at the time. However this doesn’t always make sense to other people.

If someone behaves strangely in our eyes, most of us make up a story that fits our image of the world, as to why they are behaving that way. Rather than entering a clarifying conversation, we label them “stupid” and we might even read their minds and tell other people “He thinks he is the king of the world!!” We constantly interpret behaviors and attach meanings to them that make sense to us.

Rather than judging people’s behavior, let’s try and focus on their intention instead. The only way to find out the other person’s intention is to ask them. Open a dialogue and ask, “What was your intention, when you did that?”

Can you hear the difference to “Why did you do that??”

The word “why?” forces the other person into defensive mode and asks for justification of past behavior. It’s a very loaded question and can come across in itself as a judgment. Just imagine someone saying it to you, including the hidden second part of the question, “Why did you do that, you [adjective] [noun]??” :)

“What was your intention?” is pretty much the same question, however it sounds a lot less loaded and it’s constructive. It keeps you both looking forward; it keeps you focused on a solution, not on blame and as you agree that the intention was good, you only need to find a better method (=behavior) together on how to follow through on that positive intention.

There are always two goals in any situation: One is to achieve a certain outcome, the other is to maintain our relationships with the people involved.

This is the whole meaning of the quote “Nobody can win an argument.”

As important as it is to focus on our own intentions to achieve our goals in life, as important it is to focus on other people’s intentions before we judge them.

Or better yet… INSTEAD of judging them.

14 Responses to About Loving Communication

  1. Marissa says:

    Thank you, Anja. This was perfectly timed, and beautifully said. I was having difficulty with someone’s actions just last week, and one of my business mentors gently reminded me that my expectation of how someone else might behave is rooted in my experience and beliefs, not in the reality of someone else’s experience and beliefs. In other words, we can never anticipate someone else’s behaviour, and we certainly cannot know what their was intention behind that behaviour unless we ask! Thank you for that further reminder, and for ways in which to lovingly ask for clarification with an open heart and mind.

  2. Emelie Rota says:

    Beautifully written Anja… I love the reframes you suggested for a more heart-centered way of communicating. It really is interesting how different the same “reality” seems for different people experiencing it. Each person’s version of truth is their own.

    I especially love how you suggest to consider others’ intentions instead of judging them! We are often so quick to judge other people, and we really have no business doing so =)

  3. Anja,
    Communication with others is always so difficult unless you try and see the world through their eyes. I try not to judge people, because I don’t know what is happening in their life that may be causing them to act a certain way. I like the quote “There are always two goals in any situation: One is to achieve a certain outcome, the other is to maintain our relationships with the people involved.” So true. ;-)

  4. Tanya says:

    Excellent article. I remember that episode with Oprah and you pointed out so many great observations and teachings.

    I will definitely put this in my tool box: Ask someone “What was your intention” vs. “why did you do that?” This is so powerful and yet so simple!

    I am discovering over the past couple weeks how important my relationships are. I notice myself getting triggered over the smallest things because of my breakup, and then I have to check myself and bring myself back to gratitude and love.

    Thank you so much for this post :)

  5. Great post. I love the way you broke down this episode. I actually still remember watching this. The episode was very powerful and there was such emotion between them. I so love how you guide us to look at “what are the intentions” instead of the “Why’s”. I am going to try to implement this in my life.

  6. Anja, what a terrific post. You have broken down the essence of effective communication so well. And these clips between Oprah and Iyanla are exquisite examples of the interpersonal gap that happens when the sender’s intention and the receiver’s impact are not a match. And I agree that it’s so important to replace judgment with curiosity. I also like using the “Five Love Languages” and the Enneagram as additional lenses that help us makes sense of another’s intentions and behaviors. Thanks for such a loving post!

  7. Suki says:

    Communication is one of the things that I keep practicing. It’s quite a difficult task. It can turn things badly and ruin relationship.
    This is a good suggestion to ask others’ intentions and try to understand why! instead of judging them and leaving negative energy.

  8. sheila says:

    I am so grateful, Anja, for this post and bringing this beautiful exchange to my awareness. There is so much to be gained in understanding others through active listening and non-judgmental communication, and I am always striving to learn more and better techniques to understand and be understood. Thank you for sharing this powerful lesson in communication and forgiveness. You have a beautiful gift for words.
    Namaste,
    Sheila

  9. Kathleen says:

    BeautiFULL post, Anja! Thank you for it! This is truly one of my most cherished topics. And why? because knowing how to navigate through conflict is the ingredient to keep relationships LUSH ecstatic and ALIVE! And thus the state of the world. We don’t know how to do this. We are taught the inner arts of communication. It needs to begin at the beginning of our lives. And we are taught that conflict is BAD so we avoid it at all costs. We stuff our TRUE feelings, but don’t even know how to sort through them other than HE”S TO BLAME!

    This for me is the JEWEL in your piece!
    “Rather than judging people’s behavior, let’s try and focus on their intention instead.”

    In fact, it is exactly what I told my boyfriend yesterday when we were working together and hit a rocky path. He began blaming me for ‘hijacking’ the situation. What?!?! I told him… listen… just seeee me as ignorant in this area. I do not know anything and am just trying to understand. That is where I am coming from.

    More often than not we project such awful stuff that is UNTRUE on the other person. Staying close to that question… “what is their intention IS the magic key!!

    thank you for stating this so eloquently! please… continue to TEACH THE WORLD!!
    xo

  10. Anja Schuetz says:

    Ladies, thank you all soooo much for taking the time to read and commment! I really really appreciate this. xx

  11. I’ve been on overdrive recently, and fall back into bad habits that easily turn conversations into disagreements. But by adding this one little tip to my toolbox (asking “what was your intention?” vs, “why?”) I think I’ll see a lot of change for the rest of the week. Thanks, Loralee

  12. Hi Anja,
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post. It’s a great reminder that by seeking the truth underneath the words, we can prevent a lot of unnecessary hurt and misunderstanding. Furthermore, we can take the opportunity to face our own stuff in these sorts of interactions. Imagine if both Oprah and Iylanla were able to pick up the bottom line – ie that Iylanla felt undeserving – how differently the original conversation would have ended.

    I love the way they both use language without blame. Very powerful! thanks so much for sharing such a good life lesson.
    Jacinta

  13. Anja…how beautiful you share this post. I never watched this episode but totally feel like I was watching it live by reading your words.

    Love what you are doing and love what you ended it with “Nobody can win an argument.”

    xoxo
    Alara

  14. Jenny Shih says:

    That was an interesting Oprah episode, and I think you summarize it well by saying that Oprah didn’t understand because she doesn’t live by the same limiting rules. That is an important point because the whole reason an argument begins in the first place is because people have differing perspectives.

    Thanks for elaborating on this story and sharing your perspective. Like Alara, I love that you included “nobody can win an argument.”

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