Taking a Deeper Dive into The Four Agreements [Part 3]
Rev. Dr. Kitty Boitnott, NBCT, RScP
Heart-Centered Career Transition and Job Search Coach | Life Strategies and Stress Management Coach
This message is the third in a series based on a recent webinar that I presented entitled, "The Four Agreements of Authentic Leadership." The webinar presentation uses The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz as the springboard for thoughts on leadership.
Last week's post covered the second agreement, "Don't take anything personally."
As luck would have it, I found myself being tested by my own words the very same day the newsletter went out. I received an email from a reader who seemed to take exception to my message. She sent me a pretty snippy message, frankly. And I immediately took it personally.
Of course, I did! I am human!!!
The good news is that I recognized my reaction almost immediately. I say "almost" because I naturally had a very human response in the instant that I read the message.
I was surprised and then hurt and then angry over her message before I realized that I was taking her note as a personal attack on me. All of that happened in the span of just a few seconds.
The thing is, I didn't need to react that way at all. The angry message said more about the reader than about me. But in those first few seconds, I took the remarks offered deeply personally.
I don't think there is any way to stop an immediate reaction. You feel the way you feel. In those first few seconds after reading her message, I felt upset. But I caught myself. I believe the point to all of this teaching is to recognize what is happening and calibrate your actions accordingly.
I considered how and whether I should respond in kind to her. I thought of some pretty sharp things I could say in my response. But I stopped myself. I still responded. But the tone of my response was very different from what it might have been had I not realized what I was doing.
And the truth is, the message didn't warrant a response at all.
Had I been a bigger person, one who could genuinely practice this agreement flawlessly, I would have shrugged it off and not bothered to respond at all. I didn't shrug it off because I felt unfairly criticized and misunderstood. Because I am a flawed human, I needed to offer something rather than to remain silent.
You know what? She hasn't even opened my message. She either doesn't know I responded or doesn't care. I spent a lot of time crafting a thoughtful response to my reader. And she hasn't read it after almost a week. I should have saved myself the time and effort. Lesson learned...at least until the next time something like that happens.
I share this little anecdote to demonstrate that no one gets this stuff down perfectly. It is always a struggle. It takes constant practice and awareness. And sometimes it is easier to do than other times.
I work at the first agreement with regularity. I strive to "always be impeccable in [my] word" 100% of the time. I often fall short, of course. But that does not interfere with my striving toward it diligently.
I also obviously have more than a little work to do concerning the second agreement, which is "Don't take anything personally."
Today, I offer the third agreement: "Don't make assumptions."
This agreement is also a difficult one to put into practice. As human beings, we are hard-wired to size people up and to assess them so we can determine our level of safety at any given moment.
The reaction comes from the reptilian part of the brain called the amygdala.
Back in the days of the early caveman, if another man approached, the caveman had to determine if the oncoming man was friendly or an enemy intending him harm. Making the wrong calculation could lead to a deadly outcome.
If you are walking down a darkened alley alone and you hear footsteps behind you, you may feel your heart quicken in alarm. It's normal. It is a response that you need for your survival on occasion.
The amygdala is responsible for all your immediate responses to stress. It causes an increase of adrenalin into your bloodstream, which helps you prepare for a challenge of any sort. Your heart beats faster. You breathing becomes more shallow. You are instantly in "fight or flight" mode.
Technically, we don't "think" in the first few seconds of an episode that precipitates a stress response.
When meeting someone new, your reaction is based on more of an intuitive "hit" or a vibe you may get from someone. Each person automatically sizes up the other determining a level of interest.
And we immediately start making assumptions about each other.
People leap to conclusions about each others' economic status, level of education, and social standing in the first few seconds of meeting. In some cases, you don't even have to speak. Your mere appearance--the clothes you wear, the way you carry yourself--those are the signals you "send-off" that others pick up on and start making up stories about.
I do it all the time. Again, the key is to be aware of it. In fact, for me, it is almost like a game. I watch people when I am out and about, like shopping or sitting at a Starbucks coffee shop.
I will see someone who catches my eye. If they are with someone, I watch their body language. I try to determine their level of acquaintance or intimacy. Are they meeting for the first time, maybe for a blind date? Sometimes I think I can tell that by their body language or snippets of conversation that I overhear. Or are they a long-time married couple, so comfortable with one another that they don't even need to speak to know what the other wants? Are they holding hands indicating a relatively new romance or long-time affection? Or do they seem to be angry with one another indicated by steely stares and sharp tones?
It's a fascinating game. But I am aware that I am surely wrong every single time.
I don't know anything about these people! I am making up stories about them. It is a game that keeps me preoccupied and entertained.
I am making assumptions grounded in nothing other than a casual observation.
I do it. And so do you.
We can't help ourselves.
But we need to be aware of it.
And we need to stop thinking that our assumptions are based on anything resembling "fact" or "truth."
Instead, we need to start asking questions. Verify what is happening with another person by asking them what is going on with them. Ask probing questions. People love to talk about themselves. So, all they need is for you to prompt them and show some interest.
We tend to make assumptions about just about everything.
And we assume we know things that we don't--and can't possibly--know. We think we know how others feel when we don't have a real clue how they feel because we haven't bothered to ask them.
We assume we know what other people think even though we haven't asked them that either.
We assume that we know!
Remember the adage about making assumptions? The person who "assumes" anything makes an "ass out of you and me." There is a lot of truth to that.
And someone else said, "Assumptions are the Termites of Relationships."
Since you can't stop making assumptions, the key here is to be aware and mindful about the assumptions you are making and stop believing them to be true.
Ask! Find out what is going on with your loved ones and your colleagues. They will appreciate the interest, and they will especially appreciate it that you are attempting to avoid assuming things you don't have any way of knowing.
So, how does this relate to being a good leader?
Good leaders ask questions.
They inquire instead of assuming they know everything.
An effective leader checks in with their managers and other employees frequently. They stay in touch with those at the ground level of their organization.
By staying in touch and asking lots of questions, they can avoid a lot of potential problems that could crop up if he assumes everything is fine.
It is important to remember that no one practices these four agreements with absolute perfection. If you think you can, you are deluding yourself.
Be aware and try to lessen the likelihood of hurting others by making assumptions that will only lead to conflict.
(*Note: I am aware that this graphic has "self-interest" misspelled.)
Practice in the case of adopting these agreements does not make "perfect."
What you want to strive to do is to become more aware of your motives. Recognize the thoughts behind your actions. Become aware of how your reactions and responses impact the people in your life.
We may not be able to stop ourselves from taking things personally or making assumptions, but we can be aware of our thoughts and motivations. Awareness if the key.
Until next time.
I am working on a leadership course that will be released in the coming weeks. If you are interested in developing your leadership skills, stay tuned. I am calling the course, "Leadership in Today's Complex World."
If you would like to be notified when the course is ready for release, please respond to this message and let me know.