3 Ways to Stop Chaos and Start Respect
It seems like on just about every news report, there’s a story about police and protesters.
Sometimes there’s footage, and from that footage, it sometimes seems clear to me that the police are genuinely trying. From the same footage, it seems clear to me that the protesters are genuinely trying too.
What seems to be missing is the mutual insight that the “other side” is genuinely trying.
We’re all in this together. We need one another.
But too often, “we judge ourselves by our motives—and others by their behavior.”
This quote is often credited to Stephen Covey, and it has a long history of variations.
In CPI’s training programs, we often discuss what’s behind behaviors. What causes a person to act a certain way? We call these causes Precipitating Factors.
Not every person in every situation has access to that insight, though. Not every person in every situation has the chance or the time to recognize what’s causing someone else’s behavior.
And some decisions need to be made in the moment, based on the information that’s presented at the time. Such situations tend to be higher risk. Stakes are high and decisions have to be made fast.
What I’d like to consider is how we judge and respond to the intent behind those decisions.
First, what was the intent behind the decisions? We may or may not know, and we may have to be okay with that.
But then, let’s also ask ourselves: Was there a genuine effort to be kind and helpful? To understand? To care? To make our communities better? To just… try?
No matter what “side” we’re on, here’s a key we all need:
Look for the reasons behind someone else’s intent. Rather than seeing the person’s behavior and interpreting it only from your own perspective, seek clarification.
Of course, as I mentioned, the reality is that sometimes we may never know the intent of someone’s behaviors. We don’t always have the opportunity. And while that’s okay, it’s important to try to take a moment to consider that some behaviors come from a place of, well, genuinely trying too.
Some behaviors come from a place of simply wanting to help things be better.
Think about that.
Recognize when someone is trying to make things better. Recognize their motives, even when their behavior is a problem. Especially when their behavior is a problem.
Then take it a bit further.
Acknowledge their efforts. Acknowledge when you see people trying. One of the things we teach in CPI training is how to acknowledge a person as a person.
None of this is easy to remember in the heat of the moment unless you practice.
So try this:
I challenge you to practice these exercises once a day for three weeks. Challenge your friends and colleagues too.
1. When you want to criticize, look for strengths.
You might not always find a million strengths, but look for the ones that are there.
Think about it: Who are you more likely to have an open and honest conversation with—someone who constantly criticizes you, or someone who’s validating and nonjudgmental?
I’m inclined to believe that most of us would answer “validating and nonjudgmental.” Because those are the people who help us feel emotionally safe. And when we feel emotionally safe, that’s when true dialogue happens. True dialogue, of course, can help us better understand one another and can do wonders in reducing fear.
Because we live in a world that’s filled with fear. Rarely will we experience people at their best when they are afraid, nor should we expect to.
2. Pay attention.
For example, is someone reaching out?
“Violence is the language of the unheard,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said.
And just because someone isn’t outwardly violent, by the way, doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering on the inside.
So listen to the words people use. Look into their eyes. Look for the feelings behind their words. One easy— but often overlooked—way to validate others is to simply notice them. This is a powerful way to create an emotionally safe environment, whether your environment right now is work, home, somewhere in your community, or society at large.
3. Listen more than you speak.
As you’re listening to someone, resist the (often strong) urge to fill silence.
Sometimes there are no answers anyway.
And taking a bit of time to really think about what someone has said is an underused and undervalued skill.
In today’s fast-moving world, we’ve grown impatient. Sadly, this means that we don’t really listen anymore.
So try taking a deep breath, and instead of rushing to make a brilliant comment, just be with a person. Genuinely consider their perspective, and maybe you’ll even feel safe enough to ask yourself, “Do I feed into that?”
We can’t change unless we’re aware of something that needs to change.
Sometimes it takes another person to help us realize that a change needs to happen. And change can be scary. It often leaves us vulnerable. This is why emotional safety is so important.
But think about this: If we were all brave enough to try to create more emotionally safe environments, to have meaningful and honest dialogue with one another, and to reach out and listen, we might be able to turn on the news and see less hate—and more understanding and compassion.