“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
“I aim to please. It’s okay, no worries. Please don’t worry, its no
big deal.” These are some of the common statements I have made when I’ve
interacted with others. The truth is that it is not okay and it is
I could never voice this to people. What if they didn’t like me
Growing up I learned to be polite and to respect my elders, so I
considered it rude to tell someone that what they are asking for or what
they are doing is actually not okay. I also didn’t want to create any
unnecessary problems or conflict.
I always seemed to end up doing things I didn’t want to do or
helping people with things that they should do themselves. I would get
frustrated and annoyed and end up taking it out on those people who are
close to me. Why did I do this?
I was sitting in an aisle seat on an airplane once when a man asked
me if I wouldn’t mind swapping with him. His friend was sitting next to
me, and he wanted to talk to him. The problem was that this guy’s
original seat was near the back and was a middle seat.
I didn’t want to do it, and yet I did. I reluctantly smiled and said,
“Sure, no worries.” I then sat in the middle seat on the flight between
two very large passengers, feeling cramped and annoyed. This is when it
all started going wrong.
It never rains but it pours. The passenger in the window seat wanted
to go to the bathroom, so there was a lot of climbing in and out of the
seats. I just smiled and said, “No problem.”
The meal cart arrived, and because we were at the back they had run
out of the vegetarian choice, so I had nothing to eat. I just said, “Not
My bag was in the compartment above my original seat so I couldn’t
just stand up and get my book. The guy next to me was reading the paper
and it draped into my space. I couldn’t really say anything because, as
you know, reading a newspaper in the confines of an airplane is
difficult, and he was trying.
The other guy next to me was hogging the middle arm rest. My justification was that he was a big guy and he was cramped, shame.
I was fuming inside because I did not stand up for myself and
for what I wanted. I started blaming the guy who was sitting in my
original seat for how I was feeling. If he had just stayed in his seat
then none of this would have happened. This was the story of my life.
The truth is, I was a people pleaser
and didn’t like others to be inconvenienced. I would rather be inconvenienced than let them have to go through that.
I had learned from an early age to teach people how to treat
me. I was teaching them that it was okay to take advantage of me,
because deep down inside I believed I was not enough.
My key insights that pushed me to change were:
- I did not like unnecessary conflict and viewed conflict as destructive.
- I did not value myself and my needs, and I saw other peoples’ needs as more important than mine.
- I did not know how to speak up without blowing up.
Dealing with Conflict
“Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from
individuals or groups that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or
This simple statement helped me realize that conflict is natural and a
given. The world is full of conflict and it would never go away. I just
had to learn to deal effectively with conflict. This required that my
inner emotional state needed to be able to handle the conflict without
taking things personally and getting upset.
I started seeing conflict as good, as it allowed me to speak my
truth. I learned that I was not responsible for how others felt about my
choices as long as I was not being selfish or offending. I started
standing up for myself, and my experiences shifted.
Making My Needs Important
I had to realize that my needs were important, as they expressed my
inner desires. If I wanted to start living a great life, I had to start
living it for me. This meant I had to make my choices real by voicing
them. This did not mean that I did not see others needs as important. It
just meant I gave a voice to my needs, which I had never done before.
This was not easy, as I had to change. People resisted this new me
and there were some people that didn’t like it. Instead of rejecting
them for not accepting me, I loved them harder. I just ensured they
understood that these were choices for me, and not against them.
Speaking Up Without Blowing Up
Now that I understood conflict to be natural, and that all I had to
do was voice my opinion, I just needed to know how. I wanted people to
know what was important for me. I needed to be able to take
responsibility for my needs and for expressing them.
I needed to change how I spoke. I wrote down all the things I used to
say that put my needs second and I wrote out a list of ways of
expressing my needs so they were first. I then practiced these
statements and made them so real to me. A few examples include:
- Actually it really doesn’t suit me. Is there something else you can try?
- I really would love to help, but unfortunately I have something that I have to do that is really important for me
- Please may I ask that you respect my choices and don’t try make me
feel bad because of them. I do care about you. This choice is for me.
The result: I started seeing myself as being enough. When I
recognized this and started behaving in this way, the world started
seeing me as being enough.
We have to accept ourselves to be accepted by others, and we have to
teach people how to treat us. We deserve to be treated like the amazing,
beautiful souls we are.
“You don’t have to worry about burning bridges, if you’re building your own.” ~Kerry E. Wagner
“The biggest problem for humanity, not only on a global level, but even for individuals, is misunderstanding.” ~Rinpoche
There will always be misunderstandings in life. That’s a given.
The question is, how much damage will they do? How will misunderstandings affect our fulfillment? Our overall happiness?
And I’m not talking about the “Three’s Company” style of
misunderstandings, which result from mistaken identity or eavesdropping.
Those eventually get resolved with a cheesy group-hug, until the next
No, I’m referring to the more insidious kind of misunderstandings.
Chances are, you’ve experienced serious misunderstandings that were
initially ignored or swept under the rug to fester for a while. Then
they popped up later, rearing their ugly heads and negatively impacting
cooperation, communication, and teamwork.
I love this statement near his conclusion:
“Combine the perils of communication technology with our
predisposition not to want to talk about the stuff that’s in the middle
of the room, and you have a perfect storm of anti-communication. It is
the source of all misunderstanding. And misunderstanding is the source
of 99% of our problems.”
Misunderstandings Lead To “Issues”
My personal experience with misunderstandings has mostly involved
presumptions I’ve made. I’ve found that when I base my opinions solely
on what I’m observing today—without pausing to consider history,
background, or their perspectives—I’m more prone to get things wrong.
And that often creates an issue, an issue that’s really a “misunderstanding” that I haven’t yet discovered.
A former client of mine was replacing his lovely leather couch and
offered it to me; I just needed to pick it up ASAP, while he was out of
town. I accepted, thankfully, and excitedly told my husband. Problem
was, he didn’t want the couch. Turns out, it was gorgeous, but not very
But since I’d committed to removing it from my client’s space, and
wasn’t going to interrupt his vacation to say that it would still be
there upon his return, I offered the couch to a friend in need. She
accepted, gratefully. We delivered the couch to her, and she sent a gift
to my client as a thank you.
He was not pleased. But he didn’t tell me he wasn’t pleased. Instead, he showed it—much later, and at a very inopportune time.
After mustering up the courage to talk to him about it, I learned
that he has difficulty parting with items. And that he usually only does
so once he’s confident his possession is “going to a good home.” He had
put that rare trust in me, and he felt that I violated it.
While I had perceived that the important thing was to get the couch
out of his space quickly, it became crystal clear that I had
misunderstood his intentions. And I could see his point.
He was surprised to discover that I had given the couch away in an effort to help him, not to take advantage of his kind gesture. Once we had that straight, I assured him his couch did go to a good home, which helped. Slightly.
Get Courageous. And Approach Them.
So the next time you’ve geared up to tackle an issue with someone,
consider that it could just be a simple misunderstanding. And that it
could be on you.
Here’s what I remind myself before approaching someone about “the stuff that’s in the middle of the room.”
1. The Goal = Harmony + Productive Communication
I’m not looking to “win” or be proven right. It’s more important that
I gain a new understanding; that I express that I’m seeking the harmony
that once existed, and get back to productive communication.
2. I’m Missing Something
Time and again, when I’ve had a misunderstanding with someone, it’s
based in the fact that their perspective is different than mine. So I’ve
learned to look hard to discover, and then consider, their
perspective—which I do via the next steps.
3. Value Their Strengths and Motivations
What does this person bring to the table? How do they contribute to
the world? What are they responsible for and how does that affect their
perspective? I remind myself of their talents, skills, and value to help
me focus on them, instead of me.
4. Determine How They Judge Others
When seeking their perspective, I look at how they judge others in
hopes of understanding them better. Some people make judgments based on a
person’s people skills. Or their problem-solving talents. Or how well a
person can persuade and influence others. How they judge is a key to
how they see the world.
5. Consider Their Fears
We all have fears, even if we don’t consciously realize what they
are. Some folks fear not getting work done on time. Others fear
criticism. Or they are afraid they’ll be taken advantage of. Considering
their fears can provide insight into the misunderstanding.
So the next time you have to tackle an issue with someone and talk
about “that stuff in the middle of the room,” first ask yourself if it
could be based in a simple misunderstanding.
And when you’re gearing up to chat about it, consider gaining the other person’s perspective before you dive in.
Once you do, you could suddenly be enlightened, realize the misunderstanding, and be able to move forward together harmoniously.
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