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Get Curious about Broken Agreements

Get Curious about Broken Agreements

When someone doesn't keep an agreement with you, the first thought you might have is "He should do what he says he is going to do!"  Anger or irritation follows close behind.

Anger is an important emotion.  It gets you to pay attention.  If you understand anger as a signal, you take time to pause and reflect on your thoughts, underlying feelings, and needs.  If you don't experience anger as signal to pause, you are likely to lash out or express anger in an indirect way.  Intuitively we all know that behind anger, is judgment.  So even if you are careful in your language, you can stimulate defensiveness in the other person when you are holding anger.

One gem reader gives an account of this predicament:

"Living with many roommates, we had meetings and we agreed to do our part to keep the house clean. Often times others wouldn't do their part, and I did, which didn't meet my need for fairness.  So, I felt the need to voice this need to them, but it took a lot of energy to get up the courage to say something cause I feared they would hear criticism.  And they often did... On the other hand if I didn't get the courage to speak to the person, I would build up resentment inside."

As long as our gem reader is holding the thought, "They should be doing their part," she will be feeling anger and her roommates will likely hear her judgment of them.

The secret is moving to acknowledgment of what is and then getting curious. This means getting to the place inside of you where you can let go of the "should" and feel the sadness of things not going as you would like.  This acknowledgment of what's true makes space for curiousity.  Instead of judging your roommates as lazy or irresponsible, you can ask some questions.  "What's getting in the way of making this work?"  "How could it be set up differently?"  "What's going on for my roommates that has them not keeping their agreement?"

You might say to your roommates,

"When I think about our plans for chores and I see the floor has leaves and dirt and the bathrooms with hair in the sink and grime in the toilet, I feel sad and disappointed because I want a sense of community around keeping the house clean.  I 'm also curious about how we can create a plan that really works for everyone.  I am wondering what's going on for other folks around our chore plan or the state of the house, what do you see that's working or not working for you?"

This hopefully opens a dialogue that is a bit more connected and relaxed.  It may be that your roommates have other priorities and are just fine with the level of mess.  This is important information for you to have and important for them to be able to say rather than making agreements they won't keep.

Whether it is with broken agreements or other behaviors that stimulate judgment and anger, curiosity about the other person's world can help you find your way to negotiation that's based on what's actually happening rather than what you think should be happening.


This week notice when you feel irritated or angry with someone.  Experiment with asking yourself what's actually happening and then getting curious about the other person's world.  If you still find yourself angry, ask yourself what needs are important to you and let yourself feel the sadness of those needs not being met in this situation.  Then try again to get curious.

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3 Responses

  1. May 22, 2014
    Dave Hueglin

    Great piece - turn the anger into curiosity. I always find that asking questions (a part of curiosity) is a good way to avoid making judgements. So often you think you know the reason someone is doing something and you it turns out you really don't.

  2. May 22, 2014

    I heard a great quote that has been guiding me around the issue of communication this last week: "choose discomfort over resentment!" It also helps me identify when I am doing more than my share to make something happen (or not happen as the case may be!). Thanks!

  3. May 26, 2014

    helpful, thanks!

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