I had to smile when I heard those words from my friend recently. I smiled because I recalled many times I had felt the same in the past. Now, if you know my family or coworkers, you know I’m privileged to be surrounded by a bunch of incredible people. I smiled because I recognize how easy it is for me to get stuck in a way of seeing those around me that negatively affects our shared effectiveness and our relational health. It seems that we all must face this powerful gravitational pull leading to misunderstandings. I’d like to share some insights that have been very helpful to me as I attempt to navigate interpersonal interactions. I’ll use a “partially fictional” scenario where I concluded that I was the idiot—so you can more easily see what I mean.
Let’s say one week after I spoke at my church (filling in for our pastor) I walk into the church auditorium before the service and happen to notice someone looking my direction from some distance away. Just as he sees me (as I perceive it), he rolls his eyes and appears to express disgust in his face while he says something I can’t hear to the person with whom he is conversing. I see the other person nod. I immediately assume they are talking about me.
My mind immediately goes back to various other interactions I’ve had with this individual. I remember that not long ago he disagreed with something I said in an open forum at church. I also remember hearing him making some strong statements about political issues to someone in the hallway a couple of weeks ago—and I noted how I saw things differently than he did.
So, when I walked into church and saw those two in that conversation, I concluded: “There must have been something that I said last week that they didn’t agree with or maybe they just thought I bombed and the sermon was a waste of their time. I wonder who else thinks that way.” I begin looking around to see how other people are looking at me. I feel self-conscious and I detect a growing tightness in my chest. I note that the only people who commented on my message were the sweet old grandmother types (who may not have really been tracking with what I was saying anyway). Maybe I should not have agreed to speak at church. I’m sure the leadership is embarrassed and regrets asking me to speak. I’m sure they’ll never ask me again. I’m such a loser.
What just happened there? I’ll pick that up in the next post …