We all get to that point with someone sometimes when there’s this big loaded question in the air – one that involves a lot of emotion, and thus potential disappointment. Think “will you marry me?” for example. Sometimes it’s not as extreme as this, but there are many times when these moments happen, especially between people that already share some kind of relationship.
Many times, the person needing to ask the question may not know how to ask it, and the person hearing the question also may not know how to respond. The inbuilt sense of expectation can be quite unpleasant, on both ends.
It helps when we can lower this heavy sense of expectations and obligations. I often find that a good way to do this is to “leave a way out” for the other person.
For example, in the case of “will you marry me?” if this question is asked point blank, on one’s knees, with a ring out, it’s potentially terrifying! Anything but a “yes” answer could be badly disappointing. But what if the person asking the question scrapped all the drama and said, “would you like to marry me? If not, that’s no problem. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. I was just thinking about it and thought I’d bring it up. Don’t feel pressured to give me an answer if you don’t have one. We can talk about it another time if you like.” Isn’t that a whole lot more comforting?
Oh, it can be hard, if you are emotionally invested in a particular result happening, to take this step back! When you reeeeally want somebody to agree to something, part of you also wants them to know how important they and their decision are to you. That’s understandable; sometimes, it’s even good that they know. But most often, the best outcome happens when the level of emotional tension is lowered so that communication flows more easily.
If another person doesn’t agree with your conclusions, or doesn’t want to go along with a request you make, you can’t change that. You can’t make people want what they don’t want, or believe what they don’t believe. Even if somebody goes along with your way of thinking, they may do it against their will, and resentment and distance will likely develop later on. This is even more the case if you try hard to convince them! Real, unforced consent is very important.
So … if you don’t want potential tension to happen, one of the best things you can do is take the initiative to give someone a way out – an escape valve for the tension. By openly welcoming, on your own initiative, a person’s right to choose the outcome you don’t wish for, the truth will come to the forefront much more easily, with a lot less nervousness about hidden expectations and assumptions. If a person does agree, it will be a lot more enthusiastic.
The part about taking initiative to offer a way out is very important. Saying “no” when somebody else is looking for “yes” is not always easy. Whole cultures have an inbuilt reflex against open disagreement, because of the pain and disappointment it can evoke. So even if you know that you are completely open and ready, the other person might not be aware that you will be welcoming of their authentic response. If you want their trust and their honesty, you must take the initiative to show them your welcoming readiness – because, unfortunately, welcoming a person’s reality is often not the norm, especially if the person has been socialized to avoid “making trouble,” i.e., to keep quiet when their ideas and desires go against the norm. Pretty much all of us have been taught this in some way or another.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the understanding is always more important than the agreement. Because – if you think about it – without true understanding, there is no solid ground for agreement!