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Ego vs Data

We are honored to share today’s post from guest blogger Stacy Rainey.

Guest Blogger - Stacy Rainey

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation and thought “How the hell did we get here? I started with the best intentions, I don’t hate the person sitting across from me, yet somehow we are arguing”.

What if there is a spot where we can track it back to where things “went off the rails”? Let’s back up and talk about the foundation of your approach.

For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve heard the phrase “When someone says something mean to you, it’s more about them than it is about you”. For years I’ve wondered what that could possibly mean. Obviously, they are saying something about ME so how could it not be about ME?? What if that phrase is actually true? What if all the words that come out of our mouths are actually a reflection of where we are emotionally, mentally and physically? What if our filters are so ingrained in our world that it is virtually impossible to remove them?

Last week I was talking to my client about a class I was co-facilitating. He was complimenting my co-facilitator and me on how much work we had done to evolve the class. Everything from the choice of activities and topics to the music we play during exercises. I said very honestly, “Yeah, I didn’t expect that we would become instructional design experts when we started doing this class”. His response took me off guard, he said: “Yeah, yeah, let’s not get too arrogant, there is more work to be done to make it better”. These words struck me like a slap to the face. I went into “me mode”. “How dare you say that to me? I’ve worked my ass off for this class and for you. How dare you take a compliment and make it a weapon”! My reaction was all about me and how his words impacted me.

What if I take a step back and release myself from the belief that I am the center of his emotional universe? What if I let myself play with the belief that his words are a direct reflection of him and not me? He said them, not me. They got through his filters with enough inertia that they made it to his mouth and he said them out loud. What if in that moment he really was telling me more about himself than he was about me? What if his words were just data telling me where he is at in his head??

It would never occur to me to respond to someone with the same reaction he had. My reaction would have been to quote the old saying of, “yeah, the mother of invention is usually necessity”. That’s because I’m always looking for new inventions. New ways to make my life easier, new ways to say things or do things. But what if the voices in his head are about how he’s “getting too big for his britches” (I don’t know why I think his inner dialogue is from Texas)? What if he was always told to watch how arrogant he is? Then he would say something like “watch yourself, you’re getting kinda arrogant”.

What if in that moment he is actually sharing his inner thoughts with me and I take it as criticism? I think of it like this: What if he is just sharing data about himself and my ego takes offense to it? I expect him to respond like I would respond but instead, he is sharing his inner dialogue with me. If his Data and my Ego start exchanging, there is going to be a disconnect. If I think about it like two systems talking to each other in a language neither knows, there is a probability that there will be mistranslations. And in this situation, that is exactly what happened. I wasn’t expecting his response because I was thinking he should respond like I would. He didn’t know he was under some unspoken contract to respond a certain way, so he didn’t notice he had just broken our unspoken contract. Then what happens?

Usually, I start “hustling for my worth”. Dr. Brene Brown coined this phrase and I love it! It feels so accurate. When someone else’s Data starts talking to our Ego, we can fall into the trap of trying to “hustle for our self-worth” because we’re hustling to an inaccurate translation. It would have been easy for me to step into the conversation with an unconscious response of “I’m not arrogant”. My inner dialogue was already reflective of those thoughts. “How dare you”, “I’ve worked my ass off for you”, etc. In this instance, I didn’t say those things but I thought them. If I hadn’t gotten curious about my response to his words, I could have started down a path of trying to prove to him that I am not arrogant. So now I’m trying to prove something in my words and actions that he doesn’t even know he’s set off in me. I’m pushing against this invisible source and I may or may not be conscious of it. I start pushing to prove something. Our normal response may be to push back when we feel pressure.

Try an experiment: Ask someone to hold up their hand. Just have them hold their hand up in front of you, palm facing you. Now without asking them or telling them what you are doing, take your hand (palm to palm) and push against their hand. 99 times out of 100, the other person is going to push back. It is a natural reaction.

So now I’m applying pressure to prove I’m not arrogant and my client’s natural response is going to push against the pressure. He may not even realize it but we’ve started a process where we are pitted against each other trying to prove we’re both right.

What if when he said what he did, I could think to myself, “Wow, that is really interesting. I wonder who told him he was arrogant?” No battles started, no applying pressure, just curiosity about what happened to his amazing human and how he came to this point in life carrying this filter that wherever someone says something remotely nice about themselves, that it is arrogance. How different would my life be? How much more energy would I have for being creative and innovative?

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