When I work with clients, I often see judgment driving much of the thinking during a conflict conversation. Rather than a genuine curiosity for understanding where the other person is coming from, one or both people judge the other person’s intentions. Here’s how I see the difference between these two attitudes:
An attitude of judgment says:
- “They’re trying to take advantage of me!”
- “Why are they doing that to me?”
- “They always get angry.”
- “They never listen to me.”
- “I can’t trust them.”
An attitude of curiosity says:
- “I wonder what they want from this situation? I should ask them to clarify their intentions.”
- “I wonder what I did to trigger that response?”
- “Are they angry or are they passionate about this topic? I should ask them so that I understand better.”
- “I wonder if they don’t feel like I heard them? Maybe they are interrupting me because I didn’t communicate my understanding of their perspective properly.”
- “I wonder what they see that I don’t see? Maybe I don’t understand why they said (or did) what they said (or did).”
Your attitude towards another person affects your tone, your word choice and your body language
An attitude of judgement will probably communicate “I am a threat” to the other person. If they perceive you as a threat, they will seldom respond well. An attitude of curiosity communicates “I want to understand” to the other person. When people sense your desire to understand them, they seldom behave in ways that escalate the conflict.
I am not suggesting that people can always be trusted or that they never have harmful intentions. If you find someone like that, I recommend staying as far away from them as possible. The perspective that I am advocating applies to close relationships at work and at home. Very rarely do these people want to harm you.
You may see things differently, you may have different desires and you may want to see different outcomes. Those differences do not necessarily imply bad intent. I suggest that you start your interactions and conversations about these differences with the “I wonder …” approach rather than the “I already know …” approach.