What if for one day you allowed everyone to be as they are?
My recent article, 4 Reasons Not to Fix or Solve People’s Problems, was so well received that I wanted to offer a follow-up article that expanded on the topic, while offering some practical tools. The tools are intended to support you to practice the principles outlined so that you may free yourself from the need to be responsible for other’s challenges or general circumstances.
The practice is simple, but not necessarily easy: Where possible, practice not having an agenda for others. Note that I wrote “Where possible”. I am fully aware that there are many places where we do need to have an agenda; for instance, if you are parenting, teaching or supervising.
What I invite you to consider is that there are many circumstances where we can withhold our agenda for others just a little bit more. Perhaps you allow your staff to share more of their own ideas; in school, you allow your students to bring their agendas forth more; or at home, you allow your child greater room to take risks, get messy, make mistakes and learn through them.
It is not hard to see an increasing trend towards holding the agenda of others. We are moving towards student-centred, patient-centred, client-centred approaches, are we not? We are moving towards collaborative models of engagement. The world is gradually seeing that there is wisdom in releasing a degree of control, and allowing others to show us the way. So if this is the way we are heading, why not deepen your commitment to this practice in all areas of your life?
An Example of Holding and Withholding One’s Agenda
A client of mine, Cassandra, shared how her friend Sam has been struggling for the longest time with the fact that her daughter Pat does not have a job. “So when I found out that there was a job opening at a travel agency,” Cassandra said to me, “I immediately told Sam so that she could tell Pat about it. And do you know what Sam said? She said, ‘It would be too far for Pat to get to everyday.’ Can you believe that?! Pat needs work! She shouldn’t be picky, and she should take what she can get. I can’t believe Sam wouldn’t tell Pat!”
After exploring this further with Cassandra, I asked her if Sam had ever had an emotionally charged agenda for her. “Yes,” Cassandra answered. “When I raised my children I decided to work. I was lonely at home, and felt that being with peers on a daily basis would make me feel better, despite having little ones at home. But when I told Sam this, she was in immediate judgment, and told me that it was an irresponsible choice and that I should have stayed at home.” Cassandra went on to say, “It’s interesting, because when I told my doctor that I chose to work, he was very supportive of my decision. He validated it as being important to me, and that felt good. He made my choice to work, and me, okay.”
I asked Cassandra what the difference is between the agenda she has for Sam, and the one Sam had for her. Both are agendas filled with expectations and judgment. It was then that Cassandra had a lightbulb moment. She realized that what she received from her doctor she was not giving to Sam, and others for that matter. She was treating Sam the same way Sam had treated her. She was not giving what she wanted.
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The nature of the above dialogue will probably sound very familiar to you. We are addicted to our agendas for others, and not afraid to impose them. What we don’t realize is the impact we have on others, ourselves, and on the relationship itself. We continuously layer burdens on each other because of our perceived ideas of what is right for one another.
Below I offer 4 Assumptions and 9 Skills that will help you begin your practice of holding the agenda of others. In committing to this practice and heightening your self-awareness, you will come to realize how many agendas you have for others. The number may shock you! And you will become more acutely aware of the impact others have on you with their own agendas.
4 Assumptions for Holding the Agenda of Others
1. People are capable: We need to assume that others are, as The Coaches Training Institute states, naturally creative, resourceful and whole. People are more capable than we think. They have incredible resourcefulness, if only we allow it to shine; if only we allow it to show us the way.
2. People are fine where they are: Who said it was our job to rescue people from their challenges? Imagine if someone had rescued you from your greatest trials? Imagine the learning that would have been deprived from you.
3. Everything has it’s own timing: When it is time, the flower will blossom; the sun will rise; the leaves will fall. And everyone will make their own decisions when it is time for them. You cannot force someone to choose something that they are not open to. As much as you try, you cannot change others. People open and change when they are ready.
4. Life is unfolding as it should: This is probably the most challenging assumption because we assume life ought to be different than it is. But to assume this is to believe you that know more than the greater intelligence of the Universe. What if life was unfolding perfectly? We may not understand it. We may not like it. But can we have faith in how life is at the moment? Can we trust that which we don’t understand?
9 Skills for Holding the Agenda of Others
1. Refrain from giving advice, and ask to offer it: We are very quick to offer advice, often when people are not interested in hearing it. How much of the advice you have given others in your lifetime has actually been used? Probably very little. A new approach is to advise less; but if you do have a burning suggestion, ask permission to share it. Say, “I have a suggestion for you. Are you open to hearing it?” Again, they must be open to change. Change must come from them, not you!
2. Be unattached: If you offer advice, be sure to let it go. If the other person declines your advice, as Sam did with Cassandra, and you have an emotional charge, it is a sign that you have a strong agenda attached to your advice. In other words, your agenda is not just about the advice; it’s about the other person using the advice, and possibly using it in a certain way, time frame, and with a particular result. Practice offering your advice with the assumption that the other person knows exactly what to do with it, even if it means doing nothing at all.
3. Relate without judgement: In the same way we are addicted to our agendas, we are also addicted to our need to judge. Sam was in judgment of Cassandra’s choice to be employed. Cassandra was in judgement of Sam’s decision not to share the job opportunity with Pat. Judgement is simply our way of criticizing someone who does not align with and follow our agenda—our idea of what should be done. If you catch yourself in judgment, ask yourself, “What agenda am I attached to?” For more information of practicing non-judgment, read 5 Assumptions for Non-Judgmental Living.
4. Notice your language: When we have agendas for others, we tend to use words such as “should” and “shouldn’t”. The thing about those words is that they don’t offer a choice to the other person. And when we don’t offer a choice, we are not open to another way—another agenda. There is only my way, my agenda. Notice when you say these words, and become aware of the agenda that they point to.
5. Listen to them, not you: When someone is speaking to us we spend a great deal of time thinking of what we want to say, rather than being fully present. This is in part because we have an agenda for them. When someone is speaking, be aware of where your attention is. If you notice you are preparing an agenda, bring your attention back to them.
6. Offer empathy: When we are empathetic, we hold room for another person’s agenda without the need to change, fix or judge. We let them have their experience. For instance, you may say, “That sounds like a difficult place you are in.” Or, Sam may have said to Cassandra, “I can hear how important that job was to you.” You are not attempting to impose how you think their situation ought to look, or how you think they should deal with it. Rather, you are simply being with their feelings, desires and concerns as they are. What a gift, a rarity indeed!
7. Stay curious: Curiosity is a safe choice because in being curious you, including any agendas you may have, are more likely to stay out of the way. Ask questions about the other person’s predicament, ideas and feelings. You may even ask, “How can I help?” The one thing to be aware of is if you ask leading questions. Leading questions are questions with an agenda attached. Short questions starting with What or How have a higher chance of keeping you out of the way. One of the best is, “What do you think you should do?”
8. Self-manage: Notice when you feel yourself getting pulled into the need to fix or change others. Ask yourself, “What do I feel the need to rescue them from?” If you look closely, you will see that there is a good chance that what you are trying to help others avoid is the same thing you have always avoided. So, who are you saving—them or you? How we treat others is a mirror for how we treat ourselves.
9. Release control, embrace uncertainty, and follow: There is a very good reason why holding the agenda of others is a challenge for most—it requires letting go of control. In releasing control, we assume we don’t know; we don’t have the answer; we don’t know what is best—all very uncomfortable for the solution-certainty-security-seeking mind. All very uncomfortable for the mind the likes to lead and control more than let go and follow. Let yourself rest in uncertainty, and you will allow others to rest in their agenda.
Holding the agenda of others is a leap of faith
What I am suggesting is not easy, but it is necessary if we want to evolve as citizens of the earth living in healthy and happy relationships with one another. Holding another’s agenda requires a tremendous amount of faith in each individual, and in life as a whole. It demands that we consider that maybe we don’t know what is best. It demands that we stand more in the question than the answer.
It asks us to ask ourselves, “How much do I actually need to control?” “What do I really know?” “What is really best for another?” “How much more can I serve another’s growth and development if I let them show me the way?” “How much more can I love someone if I have faith in the power that lies within their heart?” And, “How much can I support my own happiness if I allow life to be as it is?”
Happiness is Saying Yes to What Is
As we practice these assumptions and skills, we will find greater happiness. We will recognize how much unhappiness is created when we hold endless agendas for others, life and ourselves. Happiness will come from the simple act of trusting the unfolding of life; it will come when we say an emphatic Yes to what is.
“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.” ~ Albert Einstein
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults