A Powerful Question to Ask When Having a Difficult Interaction

April 6, 2021 Personal Development

Have you ever had an interaction where you walked away upset, angry, or not sure what just happened?  I certainly have!

You have an interaction, and you feel as if you just can’t get across what you want or need to say, or the other person reacts in a way that catches you off guard.  The result is that the interaction does not go well, and you either regret how you showed up or you are angry, hurt, or just not sure what happened. What do you do next?

I typically walk away from an interaction like this and begin by asking myself, “What could I have done differently?” While that question is always helpful to understand my role in the interaction, a wise Enneagram teacher, Renee Rosario, challenged us during a recent Enneagram workshop to ask a different question, “What is the other person telling you about their world?”  Whereas my attention goes immediately to what I did or didn’t do, this question suggests that rather than activating our “inner critic” first, we place our attention on the other and seek to first understand a little more about the other person’s response.

I recently had a chance to apply this advice. I had a situation where I was working with an individual who got very defensive and went silent. In my Enneagram 9 way, I tried to backtrack and restate what I was saying and what I had heard her say in an attempt to move through this awkward moment. That didn’t work, and we sat in silence, over Zoom, for a bit. Then, I remembered Renee’s question, and I said, “Tell me what is going on right now for you.” She took a deep breath and proceeded to tell me about her frustration at having to meet with me because her manager was too inexperienced and didn’t like her.  From this point, we were able to make progress.

In every interaction, we do need to show up as our best self. We need to stay attentive and intentional for how we show up, yet that doesn’t guarantee that the interaction will go well. There will be times when we got hooked, and we need to do self-inquiry to understand our reaction in the moment. There may also be times when we need to turn our attention to the other and seek to understand more about what is going on in the other person’s world and what they are really trying to communicate to us.  

Next time you have an interaction that doesn’t go as well you had hoped, try asking this question and let us know how it turns out.

Theresa Gale