Do you know anyone who is so firmly fixed on what he or she wants to talk about that you don’t stand a chance to talk about anything else with that person? I know a CEO who is interested only in sales statistics. If you want to talk to him, the conversation must be about spreadsheets, price points, and returns on investments. I know another fellow who is into yoga. If you want to discuss gurus, devotional ceremonies, and meditation techniques, he’s there. If not, there is nothing else to talk about. Another guy is a classic narcissist. All he cares to talk about is himself. If the conversation drifts to you, it will be back on him quickly. That’s his subject.
While some of the above examples speak of dysfunction, there is an important principle behind these practices. You have the power to establish the ground upon which you communicate with others. Not so much the subject matter, but the kind of energy you value. Many people tell me they have a hard time with their argumentative family or their spouse’s family. Or with depressed and depressing co-workers. “They are so negative,” my clients tell me. “All they want to talk about is bad news and gossip. I can’t stand being around them.” I tell such clients, “These people are moving you to choose the frequency you want to dwell in and hold fast to it. You do not need to slide into the gutter with them. Invite them to higher ground by staying in your chosen domain. Some will join you and others will not. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you hold your space no matter what others choose for themselves.”
Think for a moment about why you would sacrifice your inner peace to join people who have set up camp in a sewer. Perhaps they are your family, and you feel guilty about not participating in their dark repartee. But you have two kinds of family: biological family and spiritual family. In his brilliant book Illusions, Richard Bach declares, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” It is a wonderful thing when your biological family is also your spiritual family. But if it is not, you must place yourself where you belong. You must gravitate to your just right tribe. You must take care of your spirit. If your family interactions are tattering your soul, you cannot afford to indulge them. You may need to step away for now. Hopefully at some point you can reconnect on higher ground. For now, you must establish yourself on higher ground regardless of what they choose for themselves. Send them love and know they are capable of better. When you have done your part, you invite them to do theirs.
You might also indulge in negative interactions because you feel obligated to do so. These are your co-workers and this is the Christmas Party. Pip pip, good cheer, socialize appropriately. No job is worth the price of your aliveness. I am not suggesting you quit, although that might be a realistic alternative. I am suggesting that you don’t drop into negativity with them. All relationships, interactions, and conversations are like Velcro Tape. The little hooks on one side of the tape fit with the hooks on the others side of the tape, and the flap sticks together. Likewise, your conversations are by agreement. If you agree to go to a dark place, you get to be there. If you do not agree, you get to not be there instead. The power to hook or not hook is entirely yours. No matter what others are choosing for themselves, you have the right, power, and responsibility to choose for yourself.
You might also stay in the dregs because you fear to lose a friend. You have known this person for a long time, you have a history together, and she might be hurt or offended if you don’t spend as much time together as you used to. Yet what was is not what is. If you do not match now, you do not match. People change and grow in different directions. No one is wrong. You are both right, and you both have to be in your right place. Friendships, like marriages, should continue only if both partners choose to be together. If you both want to connect, that’s a good enough reason. If one of you doesn’t want to connect, that’s a good enough reason. Trust that if you follow your spirit you will be in your right place and so will your friend.
Here are some ways to create choice conversations: (1) Diplomatically change the topic. (2) Reframe the conversation with kindness. “I know he’s been grumpy, but I am guessing he is still in pain about his divorce.” (3) Direct truth: “I am not really into politics or gay-bashing. Can we talk about something else?” (4) Withdrawal: leave the room. Any of these will work, as long as you have the confidence to move with your inner guidance.
As we enter a new school and business season, followed by the holidays, you will have plenty of opportunities to participate in interactions that match you, and those that don’t. This is your life. Make every encounter count.
Alan Cohen is the author of I Had it All the Time: When Self-Improvement Gives Way to Ecstasy. If you would like to become a professional life coach or incorporate life coaching skills in your career or personal life, join Alan’s celebrated Life Coach Training Program beginning in January 2015. For more information about this program, Alan’s books, free daily inspirational quotes, and his weekly radio show, visit www.alancohen.com.