Agendas can be a great way to organize what we want to get done. They are problematic however when we use them in our relationships – especially our communication. This brings in fear-based control, and doesn’t allow us to connect in emotionally honest ways. In fact, we can actually end up in the very state of conflict we are desperately trying to avoid. Here are four ways we can typically do this.
- We Want Their One-Sided Support. Hoping they will see us as the righteous victim to whomever or whatever, validate our feelings in a way that aligns them with us against the world. In some respects, we need people on our side when wrong has been done or we’ve had a difficult experience. However, sometimes we secretly hope they don’t call us out on our part…like how this keeps happening in our life, or how we didn’t set a boundary or ask for what we needed. Or maybe our own irresponsibility brought this on, and yet we are aghast and perplexed as to how this could even happen! Of course, healthier here would be we would present BOTH. How we feel yet also what we need to own in the situation so we can learn from it and grow.
- We People Please. We want them to feel a certain way, especially about us if we were honest. Now, this is usually subconscious, and this can take various forms. We can present something we did in a way that we leave out certain truths so they won’t get mad, shame us or hate us. We can also not ask for what we need, dare to say NO because we hate conflict, so we go along and lie when we are secretly seething that they even asked. This is all about controlling outcomes so we can feel safe. It is the reason for the phrase “Peace at Any Price.”
- We Want Them to Do or Not Do. We want them to change, so we work hard to convince, cajole, beg or shame them into thinking the way we do, since we know best. This happens when we point out ways they could do something differently, buy them six self-help books they didn’t ask for, then get frustrated when they aren’t read. We want them to change so we don’t have to accept the reality here – that maybe they will never want what we want. Healthy here is focusing not on them but ourselves, and doing the grief work so we can come to acceptance and make difficult choices from there.
- We Don’t Want to Be Wrong. Here’s a twist on the conflict avoidance: we are secretly afraid of being called out, of realizing we may be incorrect about something, that we missed a detail or not seeing a perspective. Perfectionism drives the terror here of being “Found Out” that we may not be perfect, and so the awful shame takes over and we can become angry and defensive. Healthy is making peace with being human, being open, humble and teachable so we can grow. We never were expected to have all the answers.
So healthy is working on letting go of outcomes and as my friend used to say “Check your agenda…before you walk in the room or open your mouth.” In other words, what are you really trying to accomplish here? Control protects us from being vulnerable, yet the cost is very high in our relationships. So take notice of any underlying fears in the moment, and practice saying them aloud to safe people so they are out there to be healed. Only then can real change happen.