The art of taking a step back and looking at tough situations in a non-judgemental way is a very powerful tool that you can use to bring more peace and calm into your life.
Trying to know more before acting is a wise thing to do. You’re equipping yourself with more information that will enable you to act wisely and approach the situation with optimal solutions.
It’s like the research you do before you start a big project. You want to know how others did it before. You want to know what are the pros and cons of different approaches.
What happens if you apply this approach to handling tough situations, situations that bring out the worst of us?
In his book “Getting Past No”, William Ury talks about going to the balcony. Essentially, going to the balcony removes you from the situation, you’re not receiving the criticism/feedback anymore, you’re an observer now. That sets your ego down and brings up your critical side. Now you have the opportunity to take the criticism/feedback and look at it objectively and non-judgementally.
But wait, emotions flow so fast and everything happens in a blink, I don’t have the time to go to the balcony.
Let’s take this scenario as an example:
Your manager sends you a message on Slack asking about that last project you were responsible for that went over budget and missed timelines. You instantly start making assumptions/theories around what that means. Is he attacking me? Is he saying that I’m not doing a good job?
You’re cornered. You immediately go into a defensive mode. Sun Tzu in The Art of War says “Never put your enemy in a corner”. If someone is in the corner and there’s no escape for them, they will fight back with all they’ve got.
If you’re cornered, you might be motivated to justify your actions with all you’ve got.
So instead of trying to understand what your manager is saying, you’re forming a theory to support yourself and finding justifications for why the project went over budget or why you missed the timelines. You subconsciously start assigning blame.
Or, you start putting the blame on yourself for all that has caused the project to go wrong.
Neither scenario is beneficial to anyone. You’re not learning from either. You’ve lost the opportunity to “Go to the balcony” by being defensive.
In an ideal way, you would be, “Ok, he sent me this message about that project. What exactly is he trying to understand? Let me find out and clarify”.
Now you’re not defensive, not feeling cornered, just feeling curious and have the right intentions to fully understand what your boss is saying or wants to know.
Every day we’re presented with many of these opportunities to learn more. But we have a tendency to jump into a defensive mode. It hinders learning and change. So next time you feel your defenses kick in when you’re having a heated conversation with your spouse/partner, or your colleagues or family, take a deep breath and “go to the balcony” and look at things non-judgementally.
The more you do this, the less frequently your defenses will kick in, giving you more opportunities to master this skill and improve yourself.
It’s hard. It will take time. But if you consciously work on not getting defensive, you’ll be surprised how things will turn out for you.