Over the last couple weeks, I wrote about my New Year's resolutions to be more punctual and better with names. Those are going pretty well. I've been arriving to work with a few minutes to spare, and I can still rattle off the names of the people I met at a meeting last week: Sarah, JR and Brandon. Kevin? Well, two out of three isn't bad. It's my third resolution — to stop trying to change people's minds — that's proving the most challenging.
I like to be understood. I can't feel an emotion without attempting to put it into words, can't have an experience without translating it and can't negotiate a confusing situation without trying to figure it out. When there's a gap between what I'm feeling and what I'm saying, or when I sense a gap between what someone else is feeling and what they're saying, I find it agonizing. I'm like an emotional accountant — which, by the way, would be the worst kind of accountant; never get your taxes done by an emotional accountant. I need everything to be reconciled.
When I say I'm trying to stop trying to change people's minds I don't mean it entirely in a literal sense. If someone likes a color I don't like — orange, let's say, which always reminds me of the '70s and makes me feel hot and nauseated — I will not try to convince him or her of the superiority of colors in the cool spectrum. Go ahead and like awful colors. More blues and greens and purples for me. Or if someone likes a band I don't care for, I am fine with that, so long as we aren't taking a road trip. Or if someone insists that "House of Cards" is good, as everyone insists, and I disagree because Kevin Spacey's Foghorn Leghorn accent drives me insane and my God, could the show be more boring — so be it.
But if someone listens to my podcast, where I talk openly about what I'm experiencing, and they take issue with how I approach a problem, or worse, with the fact I'm choosing to speak openly about the problem, or even with the fact I have an audience at all, I feel compelled to try to change their mind. They must just not understand what I'm saying, I think; they didn't hear me correctly; they just didn't get it. And then I fantasize about explaining and re-explaining and finding the precise words that would get this person to change his or her opinion about me, to reserve judgment of me, to like me.
This is not a useful compulsion — all that energy spent trying to get someone to change his or her mind could be put toward something much more rewarding and effective. It shouldn't really matter so much what someone thinks of me. In this scenario, I am the color orange. People have a right to like and dislike whatever they want.
Trying not to change people's minds is also about learning to trust boundaries.
I was talking to my dad the other day. My dad is one of those people — perhaps you have them in your family — who is always angry at a handful of people. Instead of trying to defend these targets from his, to my mind, irrational ire, I attempted to let him vent and not change his opinion. Because in the end, what does it really hurt that an old man somewhere is angry at someone who will never find out? Why must I "correct" my dad? Why is it so important that he feels about people and the world exactly how I feel about it? And who is it helping when I try to make him see things my way?
If I can really pull this off — really stop trying to change people's minds — I predict it will free up a lot of mental energy to remember people's names.
Hear more from Alison Rosen on her podcast, "Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend" or on the immensely popular "Adam Carolla Show" podcast. Follow her on Twitter @alisonrosen or visit her website at www.alisonrosen.com.