We assign meaning to most things that happen in life. The meaning is dependent upon a combination of many things including our beliefs, our experiences, and our values. Once we’ve assigned this meaning, we then “feel” a certain way as a result of our interpretation (meaning) of the event. A great example of this is our recent election. Those who voted for the Democratic candidate think the outcome will cause immense harm to our country and is horrible. Those who voted for the Republican candidate think it’s great and will “Make American Great Again.” And each side has very strong feelings about their point-of-view and interpretation of this event. The event did not assign the meaning, we did. It was neutral, we are not. It doesn’t mean that events don’t have consequences because they most certainly do, they just don’t always “mean” what we think they mean.
The reason I bring this up is that the election elicited some very powerful, very emotional reactions from both sides. Neither is right nor wrong. More events will happen because of the election, but again, they are neutral, we give them meaning. The more we assign meaning to the event, the more we “feel” one way or the other and are committed to making others “feel” that way too, because how could they not?
This happens in the workplace all the time. The boss comes in late without saying good morning to anyone. The assumption (meaning) is that she’s in a bad mood. This might be true, but there could easily be 10 other explanations for why she didn’t say good morning – distracted because of a previous call, thinking about the first meeting of the day, an earlier interaction with one of her children or spouse, completely spaced out when she came – the list goes on. We all pick one and declare it to be the truth and then behave and feel in a way that fits with our meaning. If you’re her assistant, you might assume it’s because of something you did and feel bad for the rest of the day. When in fact, it had nothing to do with you. As humans, we can’t help but assign meaning. The problem is 9 times out of 10 we never consider that we are essentially guessing and might be wrong.
So rather than feel bad (or good) because of an interpretation or meaning that we have assigned to an event, just for a moment, assume the event was neutral. It happened but it has no meaning. Instead of imposing an interpretation on it, try listing options of things it could mean, including your first assumption. Upon examination, you might find that your meaning might be wrong and therefore your feelings that resulted are misplaced. The consequences of events are facts – when they’ve happened. Prior to them happening, it’s conjecture.
Think about how less stressed the workplace would be if we treated events as neutral and were slow to assign meaning. We might be much happier.
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