For a long time, I have struggled internally with what people think about me. It's been a nagging question, and I finally realized how arrogant it was about a year and a half ago. Someone said something along the lines of, "You don't really think they are that concerned with you with all the stuff they've got going on do you?" The question stung a little, but later I realized how out of line I was with my thinking.
Since then, I've been working on this concept called Innocuous Intent.
Innocuous Intent means that I don't ascribe meaning to someone's action, thoughts, or words that aren't there. Instead of assuming the worst, or even the best, I try to assume nothing. In other words, when I encounter people, I take them at the truth value they present to me.
This has relieved a ton of stress for me. No longer am I guessing about what is or isn't behind someone's actions. No longer do I have to worry, "Are they just pretending to like me?" If someone doesn't say they don't like me, then I don't assume their actions have anything to do with me. For example, if I interact with someone at the grocery store who has a terrible attitude and yells at me (it has happened more than once) I can stop and realize that I don't need to ascribe intent to that person.
So, what kind of diagnostics do I use to help me through this process?
1. First, in emotional situations (such as the yelling), I just stop and focus on my own breathing.
2. Next, I say a short prayer that God would use this situation for His glory.
3. Whenever someone speaks, I try to hear the words they are saying.
4. Then, I try to respond clearly to what the person said, either through a word of affirmation or by responding to a question they may have posed.
5. After the person has shared anything they want to share, I try to make sure I have heard them.
6. Internally, I remind myself that it isn't my job to control, manipulate, or overwhelm other people.
7. Finally, I respond with anything I would like to say about my expectations or feelings. Hopefully, by this point I have calmed down (if it was a tense situation) and can say what I need to say in a way that doesn't assume anything or try to control the other person.
Basically, my exercise in innocuous intent tries to leave emotional and relational baggage that I may have out of the current conversation I am having with someone else. I need to assume nothing about the other person as I listen to them. Often, tones of voice, body language, and other sub-conscious parts of conversation filter in to our current conversations. It is my goal to better respond with respect to people without letting those other leftover cues dominate my interactions.
In short, I'm going to assume someone's words are innocent enough, until they prove me otherwise.