Lisa called to tell me that her supervisors at work were terribly unfair. They were blocking her advanced certification in one specialty skill, they were not answering her e-mails, and they treated her differently from other employees. She could not believe how she was being victimized by everyone around her.
I asked her to describe any specific interaction between her and her immediate supervisor, Annette. She described a team meeting where Annette introduced a new policy/process that would be implemented in their department.
"How did you feel about the new policy?" I asked.
"I didn't think it would work."
"And did you communicate that to Annette?"
"Yes. I didn't think she understood the effect it would have on how we're doing things already. So I pointed that out and asked a bunch of questions."
"I'm sure you did. And because of your choice of words and your tone of voice, she felt attacked."
"I wasn't attacking her."
"How do you know?"
"Do you like her?"
"Do you like the way she runs the department?"
"Do you like the way she treats you?"
"There is no way–none at all–that you hide those feelings when you talk to her. Impossible. And she doesn't like it, so she would treat you differently."
I asked some questions about her advanced certification, and it turned out that Lisa had tried to go around Annette to higher supervisors in order to get assistance in reaching her goal. Understandably, Annette was quite unhappy with being circumvented in this way.
"Do you see now," I asked, "how you have created this whole mess?"
"Kind of," she said.
"Until you see it all clearly, you'll keep doing it. You don't like Annette. You don't hide that feeling nearly as well as you think. Then you undermined her authority, which is quite insulting to her–especially to someone who enjoys exercising power over other people. You've thoroughly communicated the I don't love you message to her, and, understandably, she doesn't like that. She would then do whatever it took to protect herself, which might include hurting you."
People rarely treat us badly for no reason. This does not justify their unkind behavior in any way, but we do need to be rigorously honest about how we have contributed to any unloving relationship. We can then make choices that will diminish our negative contribution, and often–certainly not always–this will improve our relationship with that person. Our honesty will always empower us to be more loving in future interactions.