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:
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).
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.