What is the biggest obstacle we face when we are dealing with a communication breakdown? Whether it’s the spouse not doing XYZ when they said they would, the boss who isn’t hearing how overloaded we are, or the customer being difficult, we can be blocked by the “common cold” of communication: making someone wrong.
In our own thinking, we document our side of the case and its reasonableness. Of course we are right. That means the other person must be wrong. What is up with them?
Discussions intended to prove our position and clear everything up – just speaking my truth, you know – don’t have a high rate of success.
Years ago I learned from master teacher David Crump, in his famous Essential Experience Workshop, to remember Rule No. 1.
It is simply, “No one is made wrong.”
This was especially challenging for people who were tapping into anger and disappointment from their childhoods, or people who were certain that if the other person in their life would just change, things would be fine. When we heard stories that would lead us to judge someone as hopelessly and maybe harmfully wrong, David would suggest that we all “take a bath in Rule No. 1.”
Sitting with the intention to make no one wrong eventually produced a deeper, different way of resolving the issue. Often it led to a healing that had seemed impossible.
Most of the time, we run more subtle versions of making people wrong. It’s an easy trap to fall into when something is not working out according to expectations – or when we are not clear ourselves or are afraid of speaking up.
Even more insidious is how we make ourselves wrong. “No one is made wrong” includes us.
Three things to keep in mind about this right-wrong bias:
1. It always has a cost. Whatever your argument, whatever your “rightness” in the situation, being right will come at the cost of someone being wrong. That will come back to bite you one way or another.
2. You do not need to give up your position, your choices, or your perceptions. Knowing that the other person has different perceptions doesn’t mean that one is right and one is wrong.
3. Getting hooked is an opportunity to learn. When you find yourself stewing or feeling old familiar feelings, use the opportunity to catch the thread of one of your own old stories: how you are a victim or how other people don’t measure up. By yourself or with a skillful friend or therapist, follow the thread and release energy that has been bound up in that story.
As a communicator, the first and perhaps most helpful thing you can do in communication breakdowns is to invoke Rule No. 1. The process of adopting it may take a little while. Once people get there, there is room for everyone to be heard. Forward motion becomes more likely.
This is a good time of year to bring Rule No. 1 into our conscious awareness, as shorter days, family gatherings, and work demands may all bring up sensitive feelings and interpersonal pressures.
While you’re feeling buoyant and anticipating the coming months, set yourself a reminder that when things start to get touchy, no one – including yourself – will be made wrong. It’s quite possible that this will lead to a new level of mutual understanding.