March 18, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
Taking Responsbility for Your Perceptions
I am a student of conversation. I love the back and forth of interaction. I embrace the challenge of getting people to talk. It’s not easy. Good conversation doesn’t come naturally to most people. There is an art to human interaction. I find great satisfaction getting other people to talk to me, especially people who seem hesitant to open up.
In social settings you will often find me sitting with someone in a long conversation. You will catch me visiting with the person in the corner who doesn’t seem to belong. You will see me engaged with someone who is animated and clearly excited about something.
I love making another person feel valued or appreciated. I work for that moment when I hit a topic that lights the other person up. Everybody has a topic like that. Digging for it can be a lot of work, but it’s worth it when you hit that vein of gold. And in a matter of moments, you change from two people in a conversation to feeling like friends.
After a few decades of getting people to talk to me, I have become conversationally proficient on hundreds of topics I previously knew nothing about. More than once it has led me to discover a new personal fascination.
The incredible feeling that comes after an amazing conversation is its own reward; but it doesn’t end there. When you find that gold vein in another person, you sometimes get your own custom-made, in-person, Discovery-Channel-type documentary. If you’ve ever watched a documentary and suddenly thought, “I had no idea I could be so fascinated by the Philips screwdriver!” – that’s what a good conversation should be like.
And although I could probably spend hours on the topic of conversation, that isn’t what I wanted to write about today.
My experience and success with conversation is partly because of my need to reframe.
People who know me would be shocked to find out that I dislike social situations. Dislike is probably mild. From an early age I hated group settings. I don’t know why, but they discouraged me. I would get mad. I would feel depressed. I wanted to escape before I even arrived. Perhaps I was intimidated. I’ve never been able to put my finger on it, but I wanted nothing to do with social situations.
But the art and challenge of good conversation changed everything.
I didn’t want to hate social situations. Who would? That attitude is destructive in several ways. So I found a way to reframe social situations. As I felt those horrible feelings creeping in prior to social situations, I would envision finding someone to talk to. I would think about the conversation I would have. I would visualize a social outcast who needs a friend. I would imagine some amazing new topic I would learn about.
Reframing the situation like that didn’t make the negative feelings go away, but it marginalized them.
So when I walked into social situations I was on a mission. I didn’t allow myself to sit in a corner either, I forced myself to be outgoing, to talk, to work on my conversation skills. And every single time, without exception, I walked away from the experience energized.
Although I have never reached the level of being excited about social situations, I frequently look forward to them. In a way I created my own Pavlovian response. The goal was always the same for me, and so were the results. I took something that felt debilitating, and turned it into something energizing. And my mind and attitude responded.
All of us have things we dread. But rather than blame the situation, the people, the environment etc. we can reframe the situation. Whether it's work, household chores, dealing with kids, someone who drives you crazy, social media, traffic, weather, etc. the principle of reframing is very simple and it’s available to everyone.
The word "reframe" has important symbolic meaning too. A terrible picture can look good in a great frame, and a great picture will be marginalized by a bad frame.
When I was in Cambodia two weeks ago I bought a painting for my girlfriend. I really liked the image, the colors and the texture. I gave it to her on my return and I think she liked it. It didn't rock her world, but it was nice.
Then we went to Michael's.
We walked up and down a few aisles looking at frames. After a few moments she picked a frame that stood out to her. She took the frame over to the counter, opened the back, put the painting in and turned it over.
I was baffled. I really liked the painting before, but now I LOVED it! The frame changed everything! The thing that surrounded the painting, the thing you look through to see the painting made all the difference.
Think of your daily life this way; every situation, every interaction. What are you surrounding the moments of your life with? Can you put a better frame around dealing with that person you dislike? Around that situation at work? Dealing with kids? Awkward moments? Relationships? Are you putting the situations of your life in cheap plastic black frames with clear vinyl? Or are you surrounding your daily life with nice wood, beautiful stain, hand-carved detail and clear solid glass?
The frames that surround the interactions and situations of your life are free, the beauty is unlimited, and the glass is as clean as you can imagine. It's completely up to you.